Hours after unveiling his new Medicare for All proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he would do what it takes – even if it meant busting Senate norms – to pass his signature health care policy.
Sanders has frequently raised doubts over breaking with lawmaking customs to advance his big-ticket policy agenda, but in a statement to CNN, he said his Medicare for All push would not be halted by current filibuster rules, which effectively require 60 votes to advance a bill. He is also floating a path to passage by way of budget reconciliation.
The two options would only require a simple majority of senators to sign on.
“In terms of Medicare for All, before we even get to the issue of the filibuster, we need 51 senators who are prepared to do what polls show that rank and file Democrats want – and that is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system,” Sanders said. “Once we have, and I believe it will be sooner than later, a Democratic majority who are prepared to vote for Medicare for All in the House and Senate, we will pass it.”
Sanders noted that his Medicare for All plan, which was cosponsored by four fellow 2020 Democratic presidential rivals, currently has only 15 “publicly stated” backers in the Senate. “That has got to change,” he said, pushing his liberal colleagues and issuing a warning in the process. “In my view, Democratic elected officials and candidates should do what grassroots Democrats want them to do.”
The goal would not wipe out the filibuster entirely, Sanders’ office said, but weaken it as part of a broader strategy that would employ unconventional means to deliver on his aggressive agenda.
“Bernie would support reforming the current filibuster rules to maintain the talking filibuster while eventually allowing legislation like Medicare for All to pass with a simple majority,” Sanders aide Josh Miller-Lewis told CNN.
In his statement, Sanders also suggested that he would consider using budget reconciliation – an arcane process employed by Senate Republicans in their failed attempt to wipe out Obamacare – that also allows for some legislation, potentially including Medicare for All, to pass with 51 votes.
“It is the vice president who determines what is and is not permissible under budget reconciliation,” Sanders said, suggesting that he would be willing to go over the head of a skeptical Senate parliamentarian. “I can tell you that a vice president in a Bernie Sanders administration will determine that Medicare for All can pass through the Senate under reconciliation and is not in violation of the rules.”
Expected to stoke debate on 2020 trail
Sanders – an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and is again seeking their party’s nomination – introduced the revamped proposal in the midst of a charged political moment, as the presidential primary heats up and the Trump administration makes a fresh push to topple Obamacare in the courts. But even as they circle the wagons around the current law, Democrats are eyeing the future – and the prospects of enacting a single-payer system that would fundamentally re-order American life well beyond doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
The decision to move forward now is also expected to stoke a more pointed debate on the 2020 presidential primary circuit, where top contenders – including Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, who all cosponsored the Medicare for All bill – are being faced with a high-stakes new question over the role of private insurance companies. Sanders, through this legislation, is determined to put the industry out of business. The other four, and a raft more who do not support the bill, have all said the private insurers are either inescapable or, as many moderates argue, vital cogs in America’s health care system.
At a Wednesday morning event on Capitol Hill, Sanders cast the movement supporting the legislation in historical terms.
“We are involved in a great struggle not unlike, to be honest with you, the struggles of the labor movement, the struggles of the civil rights movement, the struggles of the women’s movement, the struggles of th