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Douglas Turner: Dems divided on universal health care

WASHINGTON – One byproduct of the late unlamented Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare is a strong Democratic push for universal health care in the 2018 House and Senate races for control of Congress.

Fueling this new interest are the astonishing support Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scored in his seeming solo campaign for president, and the botched GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare. House and Senate Republicans had no true replacement for the private-public health plan, a glaring fault that ultimately doomed it in the Senate.

All along, House Democrats, who are now deeply in the minority, have been collecting support for universal single-payer care under a variety of names. A measure sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has received endorsements from 111 House Democrats, clearly more than half the current minority.

Their movement is growing: Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, now favors moving the Medicare-eligible age down to 50. In recent days, the Conyers bill has picked up support from a powerful Democratic House member, Joe Crowley of Queens, considered a weathervane of moderate-liberal thinking, closely allied with Higgins.

Sanders has emerged as a powerful force for universal single-payer care. He carried 23 states against former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 34. Sanders, seeming to campaign alone, won 13.3 million votes to Clinton’s 16.9 million. A profile of Sanders in the current New Yorker magazine pictures him as relentlessly pursuing his agenda in dozens of small meetings across the country.

That playbook includes single-payer health care, free college tuition and an unrelenting campaign against the symbol of corporate influence in the Democratic Party – Wall Street. His effort promises to widen a split in the party. The new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Amherst-born Tom Perez, is not on board with single-payer. He told an interviewer from that he would like to see it if he were “king for a day,” meaning it is impractical.

However, the man Perez narrowly defeated for the chairmanship, DNC Vice Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is solidly for single-payer. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is not – yet.

Between New York’s Democratic senators, there is a similar divide. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who faces re-election next year, shifted left again recently with an embrace of single-payer care. Sen. Charles E. Schumer is described as “in the wings” on that issue.

Interestingly, nowhere in the New Yorker article is Sanders described as a socialist-independent, a brand he liked when he was running for president, and when he ran for senator. Now, Sanders says he is an “independent,” a much more salable description for him and his movement. Last year, Sanders was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

While the issue of single-payer is wildly popular with many millennials, it is potentially lethal as a national and regional New York issue. Thousands are employed selling and managing private health insurance throughout the state. What would happen to those jobs under federal single-payer?

An embrace of single-payer by the Democratic Party could unleash a torrent of opposition by the hundreds of companies involved in the private insurance business, labeling the party as “socialist.” And would the opponents be wrong? No supporter of single-payer has produced any semblance of a plan of how it would be paid for, outside of a series of monster tax increases.

At the moment, with President Trump’s approval plunging, the Democrats are poised for monumental victories in next year’s Senate and House races. The vote here is that the positions of Gillibrand and Ellison will push the party into a maelstrom of controversy, division and defeat.

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