Columns, Opinion

Minority Report: Hardly settling — Part 2

Part 2: Biden is best for universal health care in long term 

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s health care plan is a better long-term bet to reach universal health care than Medicare for All. 

Lincoln Son Currie

On its face, the above claim seems impossible. How can a policy that does not automatically give all Americans health insurance be better for achieving universal coverage? The answer lies in political realities. 

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — became law in March of 2010, former President Barack Obama had exhausted nearly all his political capital getting the bill through Congress. The backlash against Obama’s signature legislative achievement handed his party painful congressional defeats.

Republicans gained an astounding 63 seats, taking back a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. Democrats also lost six seats in the U.S. Senate, clinging to a 53-seat majority. 

Similar midterm backlash happened to former President Bill Clinton after his first two years in office, with the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Republicans used the Contract with America to win legislative control of the House and Senate. 

Many Republicans similarly won their seats by attacking Obamacare and those who voted for it in 2010.


Obamacare is a more centrist health care plan than Medicare for All. If Democrats win the presidency, the Senate and the House this year, and pass Medicare for All after they take power, the backlash would be overwhelming.

Democrats would be lucky to hold the House or Senate after the 2022 elections and more fortunate yet to win the presidency in 2024. 

However, if Republicans were to take control of the presidency, House and Senate, they could erase Democrats’ progress on a host of issues, including health care.

If you think Republicans will not weaken or even repeal Medicare for All, if it passes, within the first two years of the next presidential administration, keep in mind that the fate of Obamacare came down to former Sen. John McCain’s thumb. 

There is no chance a Republican majority would leave a Medicare for All law untouched if they regained control of Congress and the presidency.

Passing lasting legislation means passing popular legislation. Obamacare was not repealed, despite Republicans’ controlling of both chambers of Congress and the presidency, because it would have been political suicide for the GOP.

Even Steve Bannon, a far-right political strategist and former advisor to President Donald Trump, admitted in a 60 Minutes interview: “You’re not going to be able to totally repeal it.”

Furthermore, if Democrats lose one or both chambers of Congress in 2022, they will be unable to meet their policy goals on the environment, criminal justice, taxes, the economy and more.

Biden’s health care plan, I believe, has a strong chance of remaining law if it gets passed. It would cover 15 to 20 million people out of the 30 to 35 million currently uninsured, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 

You would have to be a perpetual malcontent to see cutting the number of uninsured Americans in half as anything less than a grand achievement. 

If you are going to wave polling about Medicare for All in my face and tell me those polls will protect Democrats from backlash over the bill’s passage, then I have a bridge to sell you.

Polling shows that a public option, a major component of Biden’s health care plan, is extremely popular among Americans. If passed, his plan may be even more unrepealable than Obamacare due to the public option’s popularity.

Only one thing in Biden’s plan might be more popular than the public option: decreasing the Medicare enrollment eligibility age from 65 to 60.

Medicare remains a popular government program, and expanding access to the program slowly, in a manner that would not create backlash by ending private insurance, is a reliable way to rally support for Biden’s overall bill. 

I understand the yen to immediately cover all Americans with a single-payer system because it would be a quick, straightforward solution for tens of millions of people who remain uninsured. 

But if you want to play the long game, Biden’s health care plan is the way to go. Passing Medicare for All in 2021 or 2022 would be an unnecessary risk to take — it would lead to harsh backlash and halt progress on all other items on the Democratic policy agenda.

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