Medicare For All Can Reshape the ‘Art of the Possible’

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Bernie Sanders unveiled his Medicare for All bill this week, and 16 Democratic senators signed on as cosponsors. The last time he introduced a bill like it, not one senator was willing to join him. They considered the idea impossible, utopian.

Times have changed.

The senators who shared a podium with Sanders understand this bill won’t pass in today’s Republican-dominated Congress. They signed on because it’s a good idea, and because they recognize that by doing so they can both reflect and reshape a shifting political landscape.

They’re aware that Sanders’ presidential campaign triggered a wave of energy and activism that continues today. They recognize that this nascent political movement is a powerful political engine, and its diverse millennial base makes it the Democratic engine of the future.

They understand how change happens: as an ongoing dance between street-level activism and electoral politics.

A Declaration of Principles

With this bill, 17 senators – nearly one-third of the Senate’s Democrats, including several presidential prospects – are saying health care is a human right and a public good. That’s a declaration of principle.

They are also defending the principle of progressive taxation. The program would be funded through higher taxes on the wealthy, eliminating special tax breaks, a one-time tax on offshore profits, and a fee levied against big banks.

Their cosponsorship is a declaration of principle in another way, too. Not one of the bill’s 16 cosponsors describes her- or himself as a “democratic socialist,” as Sanders does. But this bill shows us how government can make our lives better, as it already does through programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Democrats have too often been reluctant to proclaim the value of government in recent years. They’ve kept government at an embarrassed arm’s length, like a parent at a junior high dance. These Democrats, on the other hand, are embracing an unabashedly pro-government idea. No embarrassment, just pride.

The Flag

The bill has no chance of passage in the current Congress. In that sense it’s symbolic, a flag. But flags have value. They give people something to rally around, and they can be used to point the way forward.

Democrats could use a few more flags these days.

For too long, “centrist” Dems made the mistake of elevating process over principle. Process is important, of course. But elections are won and lost on principle, on flags. Democrats who speak of “the art of the possible” in the context of a Republican-dominated Congress are on a fool’s errand. They’ll accomplish little or nothing of value.

The goal must be to take over Congress, not surrender to a hostile one, so that the “possible” is redefined. This bill can help make that happen.

These senators are being active rather than reactive. Instead of complaining about Donald Trump, they’ve provoked Trump into complaining about them. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president thinks this bill is a “horrible idea.”

That’s how you win elections – by framing the terms of the debate. Let the Republicans tell the American people why they don’t think healthcare is a human right. Let them tell voters why they’re defending the runaway greed of insurance companies and Big Pharma.

Dollar By Dollar, Life By Life

The bill includes a transitional phase-in period. That’s important. Healthcare in the United States is a $3.4 trillion economy, so it will take some time to ensure a smooth transition. And, as Harold Meyerson notes, the bill’s gradualism is also “designed to make it progressively easier for legislators to support and progressively more difficult for such entrenched interests as the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to defeat.”

There is entrenched resistance to single-payer healthcare. It’s easier for a politician to defend a healthcare program for a defined population – children under 19, for example – than it is to defend something that can be abstracted away as “socialized medicine.”

It should also be noted that somewhere between one-third and one-fourth of all U.S. health spending is already government-funded. In that sense, any new government healthcare proposal should be considered “gradualist.”

This bill lays out the long-term goal, but its phased-in approach gives breathing space for other forms of health-related activism in the meantime. They include the fight to defend current government healthcare programs, and the battle for Medicaid expansion in states like Texas and Florida.

Medicare For All can be the flag for all of these health activism fronts, and all of them can be pursued with a single, unifying goal in mind: Dollar by dollar, life by life, public health insurance must be defended and expanded until it is available to everyone.

***

Reposted from Our Future

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a consultant and writer. Richard blogs at Campaign for America’s Future’s:No Middle Class Health Tax and A Night Light. His website is Eskow and Associates. Follow Richard (RJ) Eskow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rjeskow  

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

More ...

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work