As Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden negotiate behind the scenes in advance of the Democratic National Convention, progressive leaders are concentrating their efforts on pressing the former vice president to adopt liberal changes to his health care policies — such as creating a more robust public option than the one he has already offered.
Progressive groups that have been in talks with Biden’s campaign, including MoveOn, said lobbying the presumptive nominee on health care has shot to the top of the left’s agenda amid the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, a once-in-a-century crisis.
“Obviously the pandemic, with both its health and economic impacts, has become the top issue that everyone is talking about,” said Dan Kalik, MoveOn’s senior political adviser. “It’s all-encompassing. It’s impacting every aspect of our lives. It’s the key issue we’re working on, and it’s going to be an issue through November.”
The push comes after a steep and sudden fall for the Medicare for All movement. In the span of just two months, activists went from cheering on Sanders, the single-payer champion who sprinted to the front of the Democratic primary, to mourning as Biden, who campaigned against Medicare for All and is considering a running mate with ties to the health care insurance industry, became the all-but-certain nominee.
With Sanders out of the primary and Capitol Hill consumed by COVID-19 relief, progressive elected officials and advocates now view Biden — who recently suggested he would veto Medicare for All — as their best chance at moving the country closer to single-payer health care.
Though Biden is a moderate, they think there is promise in the fact that he is setting up task forces with Sanders to advise him on policy. Sanders is eyeing Rep. Pramila Jayapal and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed — both top Medicare for All advocates — for the task force focused on health care, according to people familiar with his plans. The two would represent a radical change from policy thinkers in Biden’s orbit.
“I’d be fooling myself if I thought Joe Biden would embrace Medicare for All. But I do think there’s room for him to move much more than he has so far,” said Jayapal, who is the lead author of the House’s single-payer bill and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“We are continuously considering and evaluating additional policies that would build upon Vice President Biden’s progressive agenda,” said a Biden aide. “We are focused on identifying common ground, establishing where we can work together, and ensuring we broaden our coalition to defeat Donald Trump.”