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Senate Democatic leaders (L-R) Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Sen. Charles Schumer, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Ct.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) make brief statements after an evening caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol December 14, 2009 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In 2009, Max Baucus Had People Arrested for Demanding Single Payer. Now He Supports It

Single payer is "going to happen," the former senator said

Jake Johnson

Former Montana Sen. Max Baucus made headlines—and some people's heads explode—on Friday after it was reported that the powerful Democrat who once stood so firmly against single-payer healthcare now thinks it's a solution whose time has come.

"In 2008, no leading Democratic presidential candidate backed single-payer. In 2020, all of them might."
—Dylan Matthews, Vox

"My personal view is we've got to start looking at single payer," Baucus said Thursday night during an appearance at Montana State University. "I think we should have hearings…. We're getting there. It's going to happen."

In 2009, Baucus was singing a rather different tune when he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the most powerful positions in Congress during the healthcare debate that year. Baucus declared single payer "off the table" and had single-payer proponents arrested after they disrupted a committee hearing. Those arrested were later called the "Baucus 8."

Dr. Pat Salomon, who was arrested alongside other physicians and activists, explained why the protests were necessary:

When we looked at the list of 41 people testifying in the three days of the Finance Committee's roundtable on healthcare, we saw that not a single witness was an advocate of the principle that healthcare should be a fundamental human right for all in America, nor was there anyone to speak for the majority of the American people who support single-payer Medicare for All.

Watch a video of the protests:

Reacting to Baucus's steadfast refusal to consider single payer in 2009, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the Montana senator would not "in a milllion years" be open to the idea of a Medicare for All system.

Many others felt the same way as Sanders, and thus could not conceal their surprise when news of Baucus's comments Thursday night emerged:

Baucus's remarks come amid what Vox's Dylan Matthews called on Thursday a "stunning Democratic shift on single payer."

"In 2008, no leading Democratic presidential candidate backed single-payer. In 2020, all of them might," Matthews wrote, adding: "soon no Democratic leader will be able to oppose single payer."

As Common Dreams has reported, this rapid shift in opinion among the Democratic leadership comes in the face of tremendous grassroots enthusiasm for Medicare for All. According to a recent poll, 62 percent of Americans now believe it is the federal government's responsibility to provide healthcare to all Americans.

On the back of this surging grassroots support, Sanders will introduce Medicare for All legislation in the Senate on Wednesday. Two prominent Democrats—Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—have announced they will co-sponsor the bill.


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