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Krugman v. Sanders on Medicare-for-All

Last week Krugman devoted a column to dismissing the Democrats septuagenarians (Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders) as not being prepared to deal with the presidency in today’s political environment. Part of his indictment of Sanders was an unwillingness to compromise, most notably on health care reform.

As Krugman put it:

“For Sanders, then, it seems to be single-payer or bust. And what that would mean, with very high likelihood, is … bust.”

To back up this position, Krugman notes Sanders’ unwillingness to support a bill that would improve the Affordable Care Act.

Actually, it is wrong to claim that Sanders has seen single-payer as an all or nothing proposition. He voted for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, when his vote was essential for the bill’s passage.

Sanders was also a supporter of Bill Clinton’s health care reform bill that never even made it to the floor in Congress. He has often told a story of apologizing to Clinton for his conduct on the bill.

According to Sanders, Clinton said, “what do you mean Bernie, you were with me all the way.”

To which Sanders replied, “That’s exactly it. I should have been burning you in effigy on the steps of the capital.”  [These are my memory, not necessarily verbatim.]

Sanders’ point was that he should have insisted on a more drastic reform, which would have made Clinton’s plans seem moderate in comparison. In this context, it is entirely reasonable for Sanders to push for a more extensive reform, like universal Medicare, even if he is prepared to sign on to a more moderate package involving reforms to the ACA if the time comes for that.

Given Sanders history on health care, it is wrong to say that he has adopted an all or nothing approach. He has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to compromise to extend and improve coverage.

Krugman also questioned whether Sanders could work across party lines. He has made common cause with Republicans on occasion in the past, with important results. A noteworthy example was in 2010, when he became the lead Senate proponent of a proposal originally advanced by Ron Paul in the House, to audit the Fed. The result of this effort was an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform act which required the Fed to disclose the beneficiaries and the terms of the more than $10 trillion in emergency loans it made during the financial crisis. The amendment was approved by the Senate on a vote of 96-0.

This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

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Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

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