Single-payer isn't going to pass anytime soon, obviously. But after today, it's unlikely to go away anytime soon, either.
What's happening: Sen. Bernie Sanders, who published an op-ed piece in the NYT this morning, will introduce his "Medicare for All" legislation today. In addition to Sanders, four more of Democrats' top 2020 prospects — Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — have already signed on as cosponsors.
Quick take: Support from the 2020 crowd is legitimately a big deal.
- Even if some of them are only doing it because they think they have to, that's still a huge political shift within the party. It wasn't that long ago you had to say you opposed single-payer if you wanted to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.
Yes, but: It may be time for mainstream Democrats to reckon with the left's power. But that means it's also time for everyone to reckon with just how difficult single-payer is — both the policy and the politics.
- No one has a clear vision of what "single-payer" actually means.
- Even "Medicare for all" isn't true single-payer. Most Medicare beneficiaries buy private supplemental coverage to fill in gaps the government program doesn't cover. Its drug benefit is largely privately administered.
- Sanders is one of the few who really cares how Sanders' bill answers those questions. His cosponsors almost certainly will treat it as a political proxy — a broad statement of support for a vaguely defined goal rather than as a specific policy endorsement.
Between the lines: Single-payer feels like it has momentum right now because Democrats with presidential aspirations are signing on. And, again, that matters. But Democrats aspiring to keep their Senate seats next year, or to win some House races, haven't yet shown they are on board.
The bottom line: Single-payer — whatever it looks like — has a long way to go before truly becoming a position that Democrats want to run on, never mind before becoming law. But it's undeniably moving in that direction.