Bernie Sanders’ plan to save Obamacare
Medicaid, rock star rallies, and the road to single-payer.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — Shortly after he finished his rib-eye steak and baked potato on Saturday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was interrupted by his Outback Steakhouse waitress. “I just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done,” she said. “All of us fought over who would get to take this table.”
Sanders was in the middle of doing something notable, and perhaps a bit awkward. He was on a campaign-style trip through western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, well before anyone might reasonably be campaigning for the next presidential election. And at each stop, he was rallying to save Obamacare, a health law he criticized relentlessly in his rise through the Democratic primaries in 2016, but which now hangs in the balance in the Senate.
Sanders was trying to find a way to fuse his calls for a single-payer health care system with a plea to save the system he wants it to replace.
His bridge was Medicaid. In his speeches, Sanders cast the Republican health care bill now pending in the Senate as cutting Medicaid for the poor to pass tax cuts for the rich rather than as a way to repeal many of the controversial and complicated policies embedded in the Affordable Care Act.
If Democrats can make this battle a referendum on Medicaid rather than one on Obamacare, Sanders seemed to suggest, they’ll have a shot at saving both — and building toward a single-payer future.
In his speeches, Sanders focused overwhelmingly on the impact of Medicaid cuts
They showed up by the thousands. About 1,700 people in Pittsburgh, 2,700 in Columbus, around 600 in Charleston — all came to see Sanders’s health care rallies as if they were being held in the heat of a presidential campaign.
David Bowie’s “Starman” played on a seemingly endless loop at all of the events. The crowds overflowed the auditoriums, as attendees waved banners reading “Medicare-for-All,” and the big screen overhead displayed charts from the Congressional Budget Office. Vendors hawked “Bernie 2020” pins. One volunteer in Columbus reported several hundred people began showing up at close to 7:30 am.
But amid the festival-like atmosphere, Sanders had a grim message for the audience: Senate Republicans are trying to kill children, the poor, and the disabled, he said, by taking away their Medicaid, in order to subsidize enormous tax cuts for the 1 percent.
“This bill calls for massive cuts to Medicaid … at the same time, this legislation would allow the 400 highest-income taxpayers, most of them billionaires, to receive $33 billion in tax cuts,” Sanders thundered in Ohio.