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Cortez Masto, most Senate Democrats refuse to take sides in vote on single payer

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
CongressHealth Care
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Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined almost all of her Democratic colleagues in refusing to take sides Thursday on a proposal to create a single-payer health care system, put forward by Republicans to pressure Democrats into taking a position on a proposal typically only favored by the most liberal.

The amendment from Montana Sen. Steve Daines, which was identical to a Medicare-for-all bill proposed in the House by Michigan Rep. John Conyers to establish a universal single-payer health care system in the United States, died in a 0-57 vote Thursday, with 43 members of the Democratic caucus simply voting “present.” Only Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin and Jon Tester and Independent Sen. Angus King joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

Republicans aimed to expose divisions within the Democratic party by moving the single-payer proposal forward amid three days of debate over plans to repeal, repeal and replace or repeal in a skinny form the Affordable Care Act. But Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran for president on the promise of a single-payer system, provided cover for fellow members of the Democratic caucus wary of voting “yes” on the bill, voting “present” on the bill himself.

“I suspect it’s just a political game,” Sanders said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “I do at some point within this debate if we can, if not, certainly in the near future, to actually be introducing a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.”

Daines pushed back on the measure while introducing it on the Senate floor, saying the concept represents the heart and soul of the Democratic party and the end goal of Obamacare, so Democrats shouldn’t be embarrassed to vote on the bill. Sanders applauded the concept but said he’d only vote for it if Daines rounded up Republican votes.

Cortez Masto said in a phone interview before the Thursday vote that she still supports a public option but criticized Republicans for bringing single payer forward as a distraction from the important conversations over the future of health care at hand.

“The vote, even if that does come up, it’s subterfuge. It’s fake. It’s false,” she said. “Now they’re playing games, because you know that the Republicans don’t support single payer. So why would they introduce the amendment? But they are games being played at the expense of the American public.”

Of the 115 co-sponsors on the House bill, Rep. Dina Titus is Nevada’s only delegation member to have signed on.

Reporter Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

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