8.1.19 / Updates

Democratic Senate Whip Durbin Cautions Fellow Democrats On Medicare For All

WASHINGTON – Speaking to reporters regarding this week’s Democratic presidential debates, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) became the latest prominent Democrat to warn that a nominee who embraces Medicare for all “may hurt the party in the general election,” the Washington Examiner reports:

“Of course. I mean that that’s what was raised over and over again last night.  Whether that agenda goes too far to the extreme and jeopardizes our chance to win the middle,” he explained.  “It’s the nature of primaries Democratic and Republican to race to the extremes in the primary and race to the middle in the fall, and so, we always face that.”  Durbin told the Washington Examiner current political divisions reflect strong feelings about certain subjects like “Medicare for all,” aspirational programs for members of the party’s far-left, but an unrealistic fantasy for more centrist Democrats.

Striking a similar note, The Washington Post reports that “Democrats in swing districts are increasingly worried that the outspoken embrace of Medicare-for-all by Bernie Sanders and other top Democratic presidential hopefuls could hurt their chances of keeping the House in 2020.”

The tension is evident across the country, from suburbs where voters fear higher taxes, more government and the demise of private insurance, to campaign rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire, where some candidates are cheering Medicare-for-all as a moral imperative … The strains came sharply into focus on a recent afternoon in Washington, when Sanders, a senator from Vermont, delivered a speech promoting Medicare-for-all as the only way to fix problems with the current system and the best path to “guarantee health care for all Americans as a right.”  He warned, “Now is not the time for tinkering around the edges.”  That pitch does not sit well with many Democratic House members, especially those in centrist districts who helped deliver the House majority to Democrats in 2018.  “I think it’s a losing message for 2020, and I think the Democratic presidential candidates have to realize that this is not a far-left country nor is it a far-right country,” said Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), speaking in the Capitol that afternoon. “I think we’re all very vulnerable the further to the left some of the presidential candidates go.”  Brindisi, who unseated a Republican in a central New York battleground district last November, is the kind of freshman Democrat whose fate is likely to determine whether the party retains its majority in the House … Sanders’s enthusiasm for Medicare-for-all is hardly unique among the Democratic candidates. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), among others, have joined him in endorsing the idea, responding to an energized Democratic base that’s pushing for a sweeping liberal agenda to counter President Trump’s policies.  That surge from the left puts Brindisi, Schrier and other Democratic centrists in a tough spot.  The more than 40 Democrats who took House seats from Republicans in 2018 are by definition from swing districts, and their voters generally favor a more cautious approach.  Many of those freshmen are hoping to duplicate in 2020 their successful midterm strategy of castigating Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and touting their efforts to preserve the law and its popular protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.

And The New York Times reports that some Democratic governors are “anxious” and “alarmed that their party’s presidential candidates are embracing policies they see as unrealistic and politically risky.  And they are especially concerned about proposals that would eliminate private health insurance.”

“I don’t think that’s good policy or good politics,” said Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.  “I think it scares people,” added Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico … The governors’ angst offers cautionary signs for the party.  They are often the best-known elected officials in their states and usually are the de facto head of their state parties, which means they wield considerable political clout.  And with many of the governors having been on the ballot last year, they also possess a grasp of what the general electorate wants from Democrats … Noting that many voters were already uneasy about losing their coverage, [Michigan Governor Gretchen] Whitmer said, “I don’t think feeding into that is a good idea.”

The Washington Post also reported recently that by “veer[ing] left,” Democratic presidential hopefuls are “leaving behind [the party’s] successful midterm strategy.”

Last year’s midterm strategy focused on what party leaders viewed as a sensibly moderate message designed to attract centrist voters.  In that campaign, Democratic congressional candidates … blasted Republican plans to take away federal protections for preexisting conditions in private insurance.  But many of the leading Democratic presidential candidates are running on a Medicare-for-all plan that would replace private insurance entirely for most Americans and raise middle class taxes to pay for it … Democratic strategists from the 2018 campaign agree there is a danger … “I wonder if we’re solving a problem that is not there and spending the vast majority of our political capital on it,” said Obama’s former campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt, who is unaffiliated in the 2020 race.  “Expanding upon and improving Obamacare accomplishes the vast majority of goals that Democrats are looking for.”

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