Medicare for All is becoming the new litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls.Cory Booker became the fifth Democratic senator to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill on Monday afternoon. It’s a shift for Booker, who recently told Vox’s Jeff Stein that single-payer is merely “one of those options that must be considered.” He has evidently decided that it is the best option.
Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Jeff Merkley have also announced their support for the bill, which will be introduced this Wednesday. The bill won’t pass, of course, but that’s not the point. This is boundary-setting for a party badly in need of a message. It also means single-payer is no longer a fringe issue.
The party’s come a long way since August, when Politico breathlessly reported that Democrats feared single-payer would become a dreaded “litmus test” not just for would-be presidents, but for those campaigning for seats in the Senate and the House. Warren, Harris, and Booker are all widely considered possible 2020 contenders, and they’ve apparently concluded that it’s riskier to hedge on single-payer than it is to support it outright. (Watch for an announcement from Kirsten Gillibrand next.) Chris Murphy of Connecticut, to name a counter-example, is considering introducing legislation that would expand Medicare, which he is presenting as a pragmatic bridge to Medicare for All.
But if the party’s standard-bearers back the policy, it becomes increasingly difficult for other Democrats to avoid going along with them.