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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who this week launched his "Dignity of Work" tour, is expected to make an official announcement of his decision whether or not to launch a presidential bid in March. (Photo: Tony Dejak / AP)

Sherrod Brown: Medicare for All Not 'Practical.' Progressives: 'OK. Thank You. Next.'

"Fight for single-payer or get kicked out of Washington trying."

Jon Queally

While not a 2020 presidential candidate yet, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) broke from the pack of announced and expected Democrats on Friday by coming out against Medicare for All—characterizing a system that would cover everybody and leave nobody as not "practical"—and was greeted by a widespread reaction of "Thank you, Next" and "Adios" from progressives no longer willing to entertain half-measures when it comes to solving the nation's healthcare crisis or bolstering the private insurance industry.

"I know most of the Democratic primary candidates are all talking about Medicare for all. I think instead we should do Medicare at 55," Brown said during a question and answer session at the Chamber of Commerce in Clear Lake, Iowa. Brown said that reducing the age or letting people over 55 buy into the existing Medicare system early would have a better chance of getting through Congress.

"I'm not going to come and make a lot of promises like President Trump did ... I'm going to talk about what's practical and what we can make happen. And if that makes me different from the other candidates so be it," Brown said.

Progressive critics like Splinter's Libby Watson, however, took issue.

"You know what isn't practical?" she added. "Spending twice as much as other rich nations for worse outcomes."

"It's always 'practical' to leave people behind, and maintain corporate power," tweeted Michael Lighty, a healthcare policy expert and founding fellow at the left-leaning Sanders Institute. But with the right kind of "leadership," he noted: "We can make the necessary possible."

Ahead of Brown's comments, Watson on Friday wrote a long and detailed column explaining why the kind of "Medicare at 55" or "Medicare buy-in" plan the senator is proposing—basically a public option, but available only to certain segments of the population—is not just bad policy, but bad politics.

It's not necessarily that what Brown is calling for would "make things worse," she argued, "it's that things are already catastrophically bad, and anything that just tinkers around the edges keeps us in dire straits." And by not taking the fight over healthcare to the next level by demanding a policy that would actually solve the problem, Brown is exemplifying the worst tendencies of the Democratic Party's old guard:

Democrats frequently admit defeat before they've even got their trousers on. This is one of the major differences between establishment Democrats and the newly popular leftist politicians, like Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: They understand that you don't turn up to a knife fight with a banana and a shirt that says I Am So Frightened on the front. But prominent Senate Democrats and at least one presidential candidate have already shown that they're willing to compromise on single-payer. That is not how you win a fight.

As The Hill notes, "Brown has increasingly been seen as a presidential candidate since his reelection victory in November, when he easily won another term in a state that voted for President Trump in the 2016 election." The senator, the outlet added, "has been cast as a Democrat who could win states in the industrial heartland that the party lost to Trump in 2016, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania."

But Brown's comments on Friday appear very out of touch with national voter sentiment—whether in the mid-west or elsewhere—by calling a solution that garners massive (and growing) public support, and which studies show would be less expensive and more cost-efficient than the current profit-driven system, not politically realistic:

For Watson, however, not even the strong polling numbers tell the whole story. "Single-payer supporters don't say we should have the policy because people support it," she wrote. "We believe it's good, just, and more humane than our current nightmare, and that the conventional wisdom that it would be deeply unpopular is wrong."

While all the Democratic 2020 candidates will ultimately be pressed on their solution to the nation's ongoing healthcare crisis, Dr. Carol Paris, former president of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer system like Medicare for All, told Think Progress this week that anyone who runs must demonstrate they understand that only Medicare for All—a system with "No co-pays, no deductibles, no need for supplemental policies, no private insurance"—has the the ability to confront the current system's inherent failure.

"I want to know that candidates," she said, "are using that term to mean improving traditional Medicare and expanding it to everyone from birth to death residing in the United States."

Because they've taken great pains to lay it out clearly and succinctly, other Medicare for All proponents like the Democratic Socialists of America have said the American people should "accept nothing less."

In the closing argument of her column, Watson put it this way:

The American healthcare system is fundamentally broken. We spend twice what other rich nations do for much worse outcomes, with the highest infant mortality and the lowest life expectancy. Like the Affordable Care Act before it, the public option would preserve the rotten system that leads to this. It is motivated by a cowardly, straight-up wrong idea of pragmatism, the kind of half-hearted idea that Democrats—willingly bullied for 30 years by Reaganite, anti-government, Chamber of Commerce-funded slimeballs—think is all we can possibly achieve.

"Fuck that," she concluded. "Fight for single-payer or get kicked out of Washington trying."

Updated: Sen. Brown spars with Iowa Democratic voter over his refusal to embrace Medicare for All.

On Friday night at meet and greet event at the home of a local Democratic leader in Black Hawk County, Iowa, Sen. Brown was pressed on his Medicare for All stance by Ruth Walker, a 78-year-old retiree from Cedar Falls. The following transcript of the "lively exchange" was posted Saturday morning in a news story by reporter Seth A. Richardson:

Walker: “It isn’t like it won’t work. I think advocating part way measures is not going to work. We tried part-way messages and it doesn’t work.”

Brown: “I want to get there, but I want to help people’s lives.”

Walker: “But we’ve been doing this forever. We need to get there.”

Brown: “I understand that. I understand that. We missed by one vote getting Medicare-at-55 because of one guy.”

Walker: “I mean Medicare-for-all. That’s the problem, though.”

Brown: “I know you did. I know you did. I understand that, but we are no closer to Medicare-for-all today than we were 15 years ago.”

Walker: “We haven’t been advocating very long.”

Brown: “OK, well, I want to improve people’s lives today. I know Congress won’t pass Medicare-for-all.”

Walker: “They will if they found out the people are brought – educate the people.”

Brown: "Well I try to educate the people. But I want to help people make their lives better right now. If we can pass Medicare-at-55 tomorrow, two things would happen: a whole lot of people’s lives would improve and a whole lot of voters would think that the next step is to do more.

"My ideology says universal coverage today, just like yours. But I want to see people’s lives better. We’ll keep having this debate and people will say, ‘Medicare-for-all. Medicare-for-all,’ and nothing will change. I think if we can make that change of Medicare-at-55 or Medicare-at-50, it will make all the difference in the world and then we get to the next step. Otherwise it’s this sort of tilting at windmills where everybody feels good saying, ‘ I’m for Medicare for all. I’m for Medicare-for-all,’ but nothing changes.

“And I want to educate people too, but I want to change people’s lives and help people now. We have a different disagreement there. We want to end up in the same place, but we’ve got to get Congress to act as quickly as we can when we were so close before.”

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