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From Down With Tyranny
The Medicare-for-All debate is heating up. Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill in the Senate that's gathering co-sponsorship -- though noticeably not leadership support -- and John Conyers has a similar, but not identical, bill in the House. Conyers bill has also drawn no leadership support; it has, in fact, drawn leadership opposition.
Still, these bills, riding the wave of great popular support for the Medicare-for-All concept, represent both a great next step for progressive office holders and a gauntlet thrown down by Sanders and Conyers in an act of open rebellion against mainstream -- pro-profit, neoliberal -- Democratic leadership.
As a way of thinking about this phase of the war against "you can't have that" neoliberal economics, I want to offer three points:
2. Opposition by Democratic office holders to Medicare-for-All can be predicted by financial support taken from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Some of this support works like a bribe, and some works like Thank You money. Either way, there's a real financial benefit to opponents.
3. Most of the cost estimates headlined by the mainstream (i.e., pro-corporate) media exaggerate the cost side and completely ignore the savings to consumers.
Closed Rebellion and Open Rebellion
For years, progressive Democratic office holders have opposed the "centrist," pro-corporate policies of Party leadership, but have done so primarily within the context of "not splitting the caucus."
For example, in the Senate session that began in 2013, with Democrats in charge of the Senate, filibuster reform was strongly considered. Among the proposals was "strong reform" supported by a large group of senators led by Jeff Merkley, and "weak reform" -- or no reform at all -- supported by a group of the most senior senators in the Party. Harry Reid, then Senate Majority Leader, appeared to have attempted to find a compromise proposal that satisfied both sides, but failed. The Merkley faction was adamant, and the opposition to the Merkley proposal was just as adamant.
The Senate ultimately adopted Reid's weak compromise, and the Merkley faction, which at one time appeared to number at least 46 Democratic senators -- but less than the 51 needed to pass his reform bill -- stood down. The Merkley proposal was withdrawn and the Democratic caucus, including Merkley-proposal supporters, voted unanimously for Reid's compromise.
What was the effect of withdrawing the Merkley proposal without first forcing a (losing) vote? To hide from public view the names of Democratic senators opposed what the Democratic base strongly supported. In fact, Merkley himself was upbraided earlier by Reid for revealing those names in a conference call to his supporters:
"At Tuesday's closed-door caucus meeting, Merkley was upbraided by Reid for breaking unspoken Senate rules and naming specific senators in a conference call with Democratic activists last week, according to sources familiar with the exchange. 'He's pissed off so many in the caucus,' said one Democratic aide piqued at Merkley. 'He has been having conference calls with progressive donors and activists trying to get them energized. He's named specific Dem Senators. Many are furious. He was called out on Tuesday in caucus and very well could be again today.'"
The names of those senators was eventually printed here, in a little-noticed piece by David Dayen at his seldom-used personal blog site. Those senators were "Carl Levin, Max Baucus, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, Mark Pryor, and perhaps Jack Reed and Joe Manchin." Merkley, by withdrawing his proposal before a vote, protected these powerful, conservative senators from public anger. His act of "collegiality," in other words, served the interests of his opposition.
The filibuster debate and its resolution provides a perfect example of "closed rebellion" -- an act of progressive opposition to conservative Senate leadership that nevertheless does not publicly embarrass his opponents. A kinder, gentler form of rebellion, if you will.