WASHINGTON — Kicking off the debate on single-payer health care with a vote on his amendment Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is confident the United States will eventually adopt such a system, his senior aide tells Raw Story.
“The Senator thinks it makes so much sense and has worked so well in other countries that it is eventually where the United States will end up,” Michael Briggs, Sanders’ Communications Director, said in an interview.
“It’s not going to happen this year, it’s not going to happen next year,” Briggs told Raw Story. “He’s aware of the political realities and the power of the medical establishment on Congress.”
The vote is set to take place Wednesday afternoon following a debate in the upper chamber, but Sanders “has no expectation that it will be adopted,” said Briggs. “It’ll get maybe 5 or 10 votes.”
Instead, Sanders views the amendment as an attempt to initiate a serious debate on the concept. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve even had a discussion about this on the floor on the United States Senate,” Briggs said.
“Millions of Americans are for single-payer, and at least hundreds of thousands of doctors are in favor of it,” Briggs said. “It is a mainstream idea, it’s just that the Senate is not always listening to the voices of the mainstream.”
The vote is partly an effort by Sanders to clear up misconceptions about the role and impact of government in health care. “One of Bernie’s favorite signs was ‘Keep government out of my Medicare’,” said Briggs, arguing that government involvement in health care is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sanders isn’t happy with President Obama for supporting the decision to scrap the public option, Briggs hinted, criticizing Obama for reversing some of his campaign promises with regard to health care.
“We have a president who campaigned for a public option, and he’s no longer there,” Briggs told Raw Story. “We have a president who campaigned for allowing the re-importation of drugs, and now he’s no longer there.”
Sanders’ aide also pointed to the fact that Obama supported a single-payer system before running for president, and suggested that the president’s change of heart may be a sign of the influence of Washington.
Sanders, an outspoken champion of the public option, hasn’t eliminated the possibility of opposing the bill if he believes it isn’t strong enough. “I don’t think he knows” how he will vote, Briggs said.
“It’s still a situation that’s very much in flux, and he is working to continue to make it better,” Briggs said, adding that Sanders is very committed to ensuring that the bill strengthens community health centers across the nation.
Sanders believes the bill under consideration should include a “provision that lets states experiment with their own systems — and single-payer could be it,” Briggs said. This would require allowing states to devote some resources they get from the federal government toward crafting a new system.
“In Vermont, there’s a lot of support for single-payer; in California, there’s a lot of support for it,” Briggs pointed out. “If Utah thinks they have a better idea how to do it, they can try that.”
The single-payer system Sanders is proposing is a government-run insurance program — such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration — in which all Americans can part-take.
The concept has been fiercely criticized by Republican legislators and has won little support among Democrats.
UPDATE: Sanders withdrew his amendment after Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) successful demand that all 767 pages of it be read on the Senate floor, opting instead to give a speech. The Hill reports:
Senate aides estimated that the bill reading would have taken eight to 10 hours, which would have sidelined the healthcare debate as Democratic leaders are attempting to pass the overhaul by Christmas.