Election 2020

Sen. Chris Murphy Says Bernie Sanders Won't Bring up Single-Payer in Health Care Town Hall

Late Thursday afternoon, CNN announced that it would host a town hall on health care this coming Monday with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Last Wednesday, Sanders released a proposal for single-payer health care, just as Republicans have banded together on a bill to repeal parts of Obamacare. On Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) suggested that Sanders would not bring up his new proposal, and only attack Republicans instead.

“I actually don’t think that Bernie Sanders is going to be talking about single-payer health care on Monday night,” Murphy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Perplexed, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked, “You don’t?”

“No. I think he’s going to be talking about why Graham-Cassidy is such an immediate threat to the country,” Murphy said, referring to the legislation sponsored by Sen.s Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

The idea that Sanders would not address his own signature legislation at the health care town hall is laughable, so much so that the MSNBC hosts did not believe what they were hearing.

Joe Scarborough pressed Murphy on his statement. “Has Bernie told you that, Chris?”

“Well, no,” Murphy admitted. “I’ve actually heard that from Bernie’s folks. That their focus is going to be on Graham-Cassidy. I think he understands that what we need to do next week is make the American public understand the humanitarian disaster that comes with 32 million people losing insurance, with rates going up by 20 percent.”

As anyone who has struggled under Obamacare for the last few years knows, this is a wild mischaracterization of the current situation. Many of those “32 million people” who would “lose insurance” actually would prefer not to buy insurance, but would be penalized under Obamacare for refusing to buy insurance. As for the rate increase, Obamacare was called the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” but premiums have skyrocketed since its implementation.

“I know that Republicans want to make the announcement of Bernie’s single-payer idea the excuse for why they’re moving this bill forward,” Murphy added. “But that’s not true.” The Connecticut senator is correct in saying that Sanders’ bill is not the reason Republicans want to strike down key facets of Obamacare — Republicans want to strike down Obamacare because it’s a bad law that has hurt millions of people.

Many Americans have feared that Obamacare was actually designed to fail, so that Democrats could push single-payer as the solution to its problems. The problem? Obamacare is falling apart too quickly, so Republicans have a shot to repeal it. (Or perhaps they did, before Sen. John McCain just announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy.)

This situation has deeply divided the Democratic Party. Many Democrats insist that the party should be dedicated to saving Obamacare from Republican attacks, but others insist on joining Sanders in advocating for single-payer now.

Interestingly, Sen. Murphy is among those on the fence. Earlier this month, the Connecticut lawmaker told Politico, “We’re not going to pass a single-payer health care bill any time in the next few years. And so we need to have a conversation about how we’re going to get there.”

Murphy knows where his party is going, long term. But he doesn’t want to commit to single-payer now, because he knows it’s unpopular. For this reason, it seems the senator wants to silence the Sanders wing for now, while planning to join it later.

MSNBC co-anchor Willie Geist joined Brzezinski and Scarborough in doubting Murphy’s ridiculous suggestion that Sanders won’t bring up single-payer at the town hall.

“But senator, isn’t Sen. Sanders giving them the opportunity to do that? You know they’re going to be asked questions. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to run the debate,” Geist noted. “He’s going to be asked questions about why his idea for a single-payer system in America is an alternative — a better alternative — than Graham-Cassidy.”

Dodging the clear cracks in his suggestion, Murphy replied, “I think he’s going to be a very effective advocate. i think he’s going to be a very effective critic against a piece of legislation that right now enjoys a 24 percent approval rating in the American public.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill is a new piece of legislation, and the American people are rather unfamiliar with it. As for single-payer, Sanders has been campaigning on that idea for nearly two years, and polling has shown an increase in support for it.

In June, Pew Research reported that 33 percent of Americans favor “a single national government program” for health care, while 25 percent preferred a “mix of private and government programs” and 33 percent supported keeping Medicaid and Medicare. A Quinnipiac poll last month, however, found 51 percent of Americans described a “single-payer health care system” as a “good idea.”

Even so, a July poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that even though 55 percent said they favored a single-payer system at first, these supporters were easily swayed by arguments against it. When warned that the program would give government too much control over health care, 21 percent changed their minds — bringing opposition to 62 percent. When respondents were warned the program might increase taxes, 19 percent switched sides and 60 percent opposed it.

These numbers suggest that Republicans would be able to sink Democrats on the issue, so long as they made clear arguments against single-payer. Americans in red states, who voted for Donald Trump last year, would be unlikely to stomach this policy in the 2018 elections, and single-payer could even help the GOP in 2020.

Last week, MSNBC host Chuck Todd pointed out that “Sanders is driving a big wedge between the progressive left and the moderate left with his Medicare-for-all health care bill.” Most Democrats backing Sanders on the legislation are eyeing a presidential run in 2020, while no vulnerable Democrat has signed on.

There are two ways to view Murphy’s remarks. Perhaps the Connecticut senator was trying to warn Sanders against bringing up single-payer on Monday. Alternately, Murphy might have just been in denial, thinking that if he attacked Republicans more than supporting Sanders, he could shift the attention away from the issue driving a deep wedge in the Democratic Party.

Either way, his remarks looked bad, and caused even MSNBC anchors to roll their eyes.