What a Democratic House will mean for Medicare for All

Amanda Michelle Gomez

Amanda Michelle Gomez Health Reporter, Think Progress

Thousands of people dialed into a call Tuesday evening to strategize how Democrats can make unprecedented progress on Medicare for All. A week after the midterm elections handed House Democrats the majority, organizers with National Nurses United hosted a conference call with lawmakers, activists, and just about any #M4A enthusiast, outlining how single-payer legislation passes at least one chamber of Congress. By the end of the one-hour call, most unmuted to say “I believe that we will win” — which started off sounding like static noise given the volume of calls but ended on laughs.

“When we have that majority, we need to make sure that we put it to use,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). 

Jayapal is calling for a committee hearing and vote on H.R. 676, or the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, when Democrats take back the House. She’s asking every one of the 123 co-sponsors — really, every member of the Democratic caucus — to push for debate, as it’s not enough to say they just support legislation anymore. The Seattle representative and co-founder of the Medicare for All caucus is the new legislative lead on the House bill after former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) left to become the Minnesota attorney general and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) resigned after multiple sexual misconduct accusations.

“This is going to be an inside, outside strategy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “We are going to do our best on Capitol Hill but we need grassroots support.” 

Sanders emphasized the need for loud public support to counter the health sector’s influence, who’s bankrolling anti-M4A efforts. Already, a coalition of insurers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies have created the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future to lobby against Medicare for All legislation. Physicians for a National Health Program’s Adam Gaffney, who also joined the call, also warned of competing proposals on the Hill.

“It’s time to talk about where we are going and how we are going to get there,” said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United, an active get-out-the-vote group. “We cannot simply rely on the electoral process.”

“We are going to give Democrats the opportunity to stand up for the people,” added Nina Turner, of Our Revolution. (Over 70 candidates endorsed by Our Revolution won their races, and nine of them were elected to the House.) 

The grassroots movement will target 13 Democrats who haven’t supported H.R. 676 and are on key committees that need to hold a hearing before the bill moves to the House floor. They’ll also target Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who hasn’t co-sponsored the measure and may be Speaker of the House. Organizers intend to flood representatives’ offices with phone calls, stage nonviolent direct actions, and build community engagement with constituent partners to pressure lawmakers. There’s already a big action planned for February; at least 70 percent of people on the call volunteered to participate, organizers told ThinkProgress. 

Healthcare-NOW Director Benjamin Day said his group already made progress with Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), who isn’t a M4A sponsor yet. Activists recently canvassed outside grocery stores in his district, asking constituents to phone his office. After more than 250 calls over a two-week period, Kennedy reportedly said he supports single payer but just has a few issues with the bill’s text and is going over it now. “Replicate [this] campaign in your district,” Day advised people on the call. 

People on the call were energized, as they saw the midterms as a successful referendum on Medicare for All. A Splinter News midterm election analysis found 57 percent of candidates who endorsed Medicare for All won; these candidates didn’t just endorse the concept but the policy — that is replacing the current private-public insurer patchwork with a single, largely government-run system. Moreover, Democratic candidates who ran in Republican-heavy districts and backed single-payer did better at the polls in 2018 than in 2016.

Democrats have plenty of competing priorities next year, including voting rights, climate change, and the federal minimum wage. That said, members can work on more than one policy; House Republicans passed a health bill, tax overhaul, opioid legislation — to name a few — when they controlled the House. And Democrats did run on health care. The question becomes, what will they do with it?

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Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder