Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who has been criticized for his silence on healthcare reforms, took to the Senate floor Thursday to thrust a fresh new proposal into the Senate debate: Medicare for all.
Daines offered a single-payer amendment identical to House Resolution 676, which has been stalled in the U.S. House since it was introduced in January by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. The House bill has 115 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats.
Democrats on Thursday criticized Daines’ amendment as political grandstanding, and all of them voted against it or voted “present,” a tactic urged by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unless Daines himself voted for the amendment. The amendment failed, 0-57, with both Daines and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., casting “no” votes. Forty-three senators voted “present.”
The failed amendment kept intact Daines’ failure to introduce even one bill in either the House or Senate that has made it into law. His critics on Thursday included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who accused Daines of playing political games.
“You don’t play games with the healthcare of the American people,” Schumer said.
In his brief remarks to the Senate, Daines said he was not trying to embarrass Democrats but wanted to get senators on the record on an important aspect of the healthcare debate.
“It is time to fish or cut bait,” he said. Daines pointed out that HR 676, styled as the Expanded and Improved Medicare Act for All, would make it “unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.” That would amount to socialized medicine.
Daines repeated his belief that Obamacare should be repealed with the goal of offering healthcare that has lower costs, protects Medicaid for the neediest Americans and guarantees that those with preexisting conditions could have access to health insurance. The outcome of the Senate debate over repealing and replacing Obamacare remained uncertain at this writing, but Daines has so far voted for bills favored by the Republican majority, including bills to begin debate on the issue, to pass the House version of repeal and replace and to pass a repeal bill with no replacement.
Some analysts, including the Congressional Budget Office, have said that those bills would leave millions of Americans without health insurance and would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid funding. Some of the bills also were projected to increase premium costs, especially in initial years.
Daines’ switch to a proposal favored only by Democrats drew criticism from some fellow senators. One said that some state legislatures prohibit legislators from introducing measures they oppose.
Sanders indicated at first that he was encouraged by Daines’ action, which would have led to the single-payer approach that Sanders has long endorsed and that he said has been adopted by every other major industrialized nation.
“It sounds to me like the Republicans are beginning to catch on,” he said. He noted that if Daines would vote for his own amendment, along with five or six other Republicans, then the bill could pass the Senate.
But he encouraged a vote of “present” if Daines was just playing a political trick and did not endorse his own bill.