While progressives have been focused this week on pressuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to embrace bold initiatives, an interview with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) served as a reminder that the second-ranking Democrat's vision for the party is sorely lacking, as it heads into a new term with control of the House.
On NPR's "Morning Edition" early Friday, Steve Inskeep asked Hoyer about Medicare for All, which 26 newly-elected Democrats support. Outspoken support for the plan helped progressive challengers including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib win their elections, while 84 percent of Democratic voters—and 70 percent of Americans overall—now back the proposal.
The skyrocketing support for Medicare for All, however, appears to have gone unnoticed by Hoyer, who replied with familiar promises of "affordable, quality healthcare" but gave no sign of backing the proposal which even a Koch Brothers-backed study estimates would save Americans $2 trillion in overall healthcare costs.
"I think every Democrat is focused on making sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health care," Hoyer said. "There are a number of ways to do that. I believe that we ought to first make sure that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working as effectively and efficiently as we intended it to do."
Hoyer briefly acknowledged that there is "a large number of the members of the caucus who are for 'Medicare-for-all' to begin with," but finished by saying that Democrats including himself are looking forward to President Donald Trump keeping his campaign promise to provide affordable healthcare to Americans—despite the fact that he has spent a good deal of his presidency thus far working to sabotage the ACA and trying to repeal it:
I think it is fair to say that every Democrat is for making sure that every American—as a matter of fact, that's what President Trump said when he was campaigning for president. He said he wanted a system that included everybody—lower cost, higher quality. When he sends that bill down to the Congress, I'm going to support it.
Hoyer's comments drew condemnation from at least one listener—Mercy College Professor Brent Draper Scott, who slammed the Minority Whip for "capitulating to Trump and utterly selling us out on Medicare for All."
#DemocraticMidtermVictory Just heard 10.000 term Steny Hoyer on NPR CAPITULATING to Trump & utterly selling us out on Medicare for All! Its time HOYER & PELOSI TO GO!
— Brent Draper Scott (@DraperBAS) November 16, 2018
Hoyer's interview served as a reminder that the congressman, who has served since 1981, poses as much if not more of a threat to the passage of progressive policies as Pelosi. As Jonathan Tasini, host of Working Life podcast, noted on Twitter, Hoyer has threatened other broadly popular social programs as one of the Democratic Party's most powerful members.
As an aside: a far worse threat in leadership to #medicare & #SocialSecurity is Steny Hoyer who has been openly ready to "reform" #Medicare & #SocialSecurity meaning CUT. And yet he's supported by a raft of progressives for 2nd spot #NancyPelosi 9/
— Jonathan Tasini (@jonathantasini) November 15, 2018
In social media posts on Friday, meanwhile, Medicare for All advocates including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reiterated that with a majority in the House for the first time in eight years, Democrats must use their power to fight for a universal healthcare system like the ones enjoyed by every other developed country in the world.
Medicare for all is an idea that's time has come. It’s now supported by 70% of American voters. In this pivotal moment in American history, we must move forward to guarantee health care as a right. https://t.co/ieX8FQmpdi
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 16, 2018
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) November 16, 2018
While the ACA has made important improvements to the U.S. healthcare system by forcing insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, wrote Natalie Shure at Jacobin, the system has still served to prop up the for-profit insurance industry even as it sends two million Americans per year into bankruptcy and charges exorbitant deductibles—all amounting to a "tax on the sick."
"That so many Americans feel defensive of people with preexisting conditions" and want to protect the ACA, Shure wrote, "is laudable. But this immoral situation won't be solved by tinkering with the current market-based system, which individualizes the responsibility for health. Until we all bear the costs of health care according to our ability to pay, rather than our bodies' relative need for it, people with preexisting conditions will still be made to suffer more than those lucky enough to have perfect health."
"The only solution is a universal, public, Medicare-for-All system," she added. "Until then, we're preserving a system that profits from harming people with preexisting conditions—we're just squabbling over how much."