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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a town hall event at Lebanon Middle School on November 9, 2019 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Justice Democrats Accuses Buttigieg of Abandoning Medicare for All After Taking 'Tons of Cash' From Corporate Interests

The progressive group said Buttigieg has "no credibility" to attack Warren and Sanders on Medicare for All given "how much money he's been taking from Big Pharma and insurance executives."

Jake Johnson

Providing a two-year timeline of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg's remarks about Medicare for All, progressive advocacy group Justice Democrats on Wednesday accused the South Bend, Indiana mayor of abandoning support for single-payer healthcare in favor of an incremental half-measure after realizing "he could raise tons of cash from corporate executives in the pharmaceutical and insurance industry."

Waleed Shahid, spokesperson for Justice Democrats, said in a statement that Buttigieg "has no credibility" to criticize fellow 2020 contenders Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for being "evasive" on Medicare for All "given how far his position has shifted over the past two years and how much money he's been taking from Big Pharma and insurance executives."

"Buttigieg was for Medicare for All before he was against it. What happened this summer that made him abandon Medicare for All? He realized he was never going to beat Warren and Sanders as a progressive." 
—Waleed Shahid, Justice Democrats

According to a Business Insider analysis published in August, Buttigieg—who is now running on a public option plan called "Medicare for All Who Want It"—has received more campaign cash from the healthcare industry than any other 2020 presidential candidate aside from President Donald Trump.

Shahid suggested Tuesday that industry cash played a role in Buttigieg's decision to ditch Medicare for All and go on the attack against the popular proposal in campaign ads and the presidential debates.

"Buttigieg was for Medicare for All before he was against it," said Shahid. "What happened this summer that made him abandon Medicare for All? He realized he was never going to beat Warren and Sanders as a progressive. He got scared of the fight. He realized he could raise tons of cash from corporate executives in the pharmaceutical and insurance industry."

The Buttigieg campaign pushed back against Justice Democrats' criticism on Twitter, insisting that the South Bend mayor expressed support for Medicare for All when it was "not synonymous" with the single-payer system proposed by Sanders' Medicare for All legislation.

Shahid said that is "not true," pointing to an op-ed Buttigieg wrote in 2004 expressing support for single-payer.

"The meaning [of Medicare for All] hasn't changed," said Shahid. "Him cozying up to the industry has."

As part of a press release Wednesday morning, in an attempt to demonstrate how dramatically the mayor's position on Medicare for All has shifted, Justice Democrats offered the following timeline of Buttigieg's healthcare remarks dating back to early 2018:

02/17/2018. Buttigieg is befuddled as to why anyone would ever question his support for Medicare for All.

02/18/2018. Buttigieg says he supports single-payer, Medicare for All. Buttigieg wrote in response to those questioning his commitment to Medicare for All: "[I] do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All" pointing to an op-ed to demonstrate he's supported it since 2004. While Buttigieg's campaign says that Medicare for All in 2018 didn't mean single-payer and transitioning away from a private insurance system, the op-ed he points to explicitly mentions Buttigieg’s support for "single-payer."

2/14/2019. Buttigieg calls single-payer, Medicare for All a "compromise position" and Obamacare a "conservative proposal." Buttigieg was pressed on MSNBC by Steve Rattner on his position on Medicare for All during the early stages of his campaign. Buttigieg says: "ACA, which was a conservative proposal, came to be characterized as left-wing by a very disciplined right-wing message machine. What is Medicare for All? It's a compromise. In the UK, you've got national health care. That would be the true left-wing position. The true right-wing position is free for all, all corporate—the compromise position is a single-payer system where you have private doctors but a public payer."

4/1/2019. Buttigieg spoke in glowing terms about Medicare for All and called the ACA a "conservative tweak" during a podcast interview with Ezra Klein. "By the Obama years, we're doing a basically conservative tweak to our healthcare system...cooked up in the Heritage Foundation and piloted by a Republican governor...Single-payer, which is very much a compromise position between nationalized medicine and fully private payer and provider...that's the middle ground. Only now are we even beginning to talk about it as something Democrats can embrace."

7/19/2019. Buttigieg rakes in money from pharmaceutical and health insurance executives. Among Democratic candidates, Buttigieg was second to Joe Biden in terms of pharmaceutical and health insurance donations. His list of donors includes executives from Aetna, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer and Indiana's Eli Lilly & Co.

9/19/2019. Buttigieg shifts tactics and goes on the attack: "Anyone who lets the words Medicare for All escape their lips should tell us just as plainly how they plan to get there."

9/19/2019. Buttigieg goes after Warren: "Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question, and we've seen that repeatedly."

10/15/2019. Buttigieg attacks Warren at the debate over Medicare for All.

10/25/2019: Top lobbying affairs official for pharmaceutical giant Merck hosts fundraiser for Buttigieg. 

10/25/2019: Facing criticism over his flip-flop, Buttigieg misleadingly argues that the meaning of Medicare for All has changed. "Only in the last few months did it become the case that Medicare for All was defined by politicians to mean ending private insurance, and I’ve never believed that that’s the right pathway."

11/12/2019: Buttigieg's campaign claims he only ever supported Medicare for All as a "goal." This is a deceptive move that former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has also used. This deflection reminds one of something Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said soon after being elected. “One of the things that gets told in order to settle us down is 'I agree with you. We have the same goals.' It's great that everyone thinks these issues are important. We need to make them urgent."

Since the summer, Buttigieg's campaign has also raised a notable amount of donations from the pharmaceutical and insurance industry and held fundraisers with their executives.

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