There is a significant bloc of conservatives who believe that Obamacare was always a gigantic bait-and-switch operation. The advocates of this view have consistently said that Obamacare’s true goal was to wreak so much havoc on the health care system that the voters, the vast majority of whom don’t support single-payer, would eventually become so frustrated by the chaos that they would accept any “solution” that promised to make the pain stop. Once that point was reached, the theory goes, the Democrats would be able to get single-payer through Congress.
This theory seemed to be confirmed by Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky in 2009, when she referred to Obamacare as a mere step toward single-payer, “This is not a principled fight. This is a fight about strategy for getting there.” Still, many conservatives disregarded the bait-and-switch theory as overwrought because the Democrats have demonstrated such astonishing illiteracy concerning the economics of health care that it seemed entirely possible that they really thought Obamacare would succeed.
Within the past several months, however, so many prominent Democrats have come out in favor of single-payer health care that the bait-and-switch theory is beginning to seem less fanciful. The most surprising Democrat endorsement of single-payer came from Max Baucus, former Montana Senator and key player in getting Obamacare through Congress. Baucus was a vocal opponent of single-payer during the 2009/2010 Obamacare debate. In fact, he was so vehement in his opposition that Bernie Sanders conflated his position with that of the Republicans and said Baucus would never support single-payer “in a million years.”
Sanders has, of course, long supported single payer and, for years, was the only prominent member of Congress to do so unabashedly. Thus, he was no doubt surprised when, during a discussion at Montana State University last Thursday, Baucus offered the following comment: “My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer. I think we should have hearings. We’re getting there. It’s going to happen.” He explained his epiphany to NBC News thus:
I just think the time has come. Back in ‘09, we were not ready to address it. It would never have passed. Here we are nine years later, I think it’s time to hopefully have a very serious good faith look at it.…
I started out by saying everything is on the table, but I did make an exception and that was single-payer. I said, nope, we’re not going to put single-payer on the table. Why? In my judgement, America was just not there.
Now, evidently, Baucus believes America is “there.” And he is by no means the only Democrat who ostensibly takes this position. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have all endorsed single-payer in more or less strident terms. In the House, meanwhile, well over 100 Democrats have co-sponsored Rep. John Conyers’ “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All bill.”
However, although former Senator Baucus seems to believe America is “there” on single-payer, the public isn’t convinced. Obamacare has certainly wreaked havoc, but the situation still hasn’t reached the point where the electorate sees socialized medicine as the solution. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, hardly a right-of-center organization, shows that even with recent increases in support only a third of the public is ready to embrace single-payer:
Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a “single payer” approach to health insurance, up 5 percentage points since January and 12 points since 2014. Democrats — especially liberal Democrats — are much more supportive of this approach than they were even at the start of this year.
And a floor vote on an amendment to the ill-fated Senate repeal and replace bill suggests that the Democrats are all too aware of the public’s lack of enthusiasm for single-payer. When Republican Senator Steve Daines offered an amendment that would have made such a system a reality, not one Democrat voted for it. Even if the public supported single-payer, there isn’t any practical way to pay for it. As Guy Benson accurately points out:
Estimates suggest that a national single payer regime — which would effectively eliminate most of the private insurance market — comes with a price tag of $32 trillion in new spending over ten years, or roughly $3.2 trillion per year. The entire federal budget in 2016 was $3.9 trillion.
This is the backdrop against which Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders plans to formally introduce Medicare for All tomorrow in the Senate. He will tell us the time has finally come for socialized medicine. Never mind that the public doesn’t want it, forget that the country can’t pay for it, and ignore the fact that not one Democrat — including the poseurs listed above — was willing to vote for it as recently as July.
If this is the cleverly devised bait-and-switch that the Democrats set in motion in 2010, the abortive GOP repeal and replace effort will look like a political master stroke by comparison. The single payer charade is, in fact, nothing more than a performance for the most clueless of their naive supporters. The reality is that the Democratic Party is out of ideas, out of talent, and out of favor with the voters. Like Obamacare, it is imploding, and its members have no idea how to forestall either disaster.
If congressional Republicans will only start working with President Trump, rather than surreptitiously impeding his agenda, they might get a few legislative accomplishments on the board. Once that is done, the Democrats won’t have a prayer in 2018 or 2020.