Senators Murray and Cantwell are still thinkin on it.
Senators Murray and Cantwell are still thinkin' on it. David Ryder / Getty

According to recent polls, a large majority of Democrats support Medicare for all. A majority of "independents" support Medicare for all. Even 28 percent of Republicans say they favor the idea.

Given these numbers, introducing Medicare for All legislation, as Bernie Sanders and 16 Democratic Senators did this morning, doesn't seem like such a wild idea. Though he includes no language about how we'd pay for the $3 trillion dollars needed to fund the single-payer system, Sanders clearly intends the bill as bread to sustain a base that's starving for any interesting ideas at all. But while the single-payer system at the heart of his proposal is a very old idea, Washington State Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell say they're just not quite sure where they stand on the bill yet.

Why? Because apparently they don't feel the pressure.

A spokesperson for Cantwell told me that the senator is "looking into" Sanders's bill, and referred me to her previous positions on finding the best way to achieve "universal coverage." For Cantwell, that means cobbling together a bunch of little plans that still rely on a private healthcare system.

Meanwhile, Patty Murray, the third most powerful senator in the country and the chair of the important HELP committee, is giving the same lines Nancy Pelosi is giving:

“I am really glad that Senator Sanders is introducing this bill. Democrats are absolutely committed to high quality, affordable health care for all—because we believe that should be a right in this country, not a privilege," she said, echoing an old line Sanders uses all the time. "I am focused right now on fighting back against Trumpcare and getting Republicans to join us on legislation to stabilize health care markets and prevent premium increases, but I am also excited about the great ideas that so many Democrats have to keep us moving toward that goal of health care for all—and this bill should absolutely be a big part of the conversation and something every Senator should look at seriously.”

When pressed, neither Cantwell nor Murray's spokespersons would cite a specific concern the Senators had with Sanders's bill.

In his an analysis of the politics of the Medicare for All bill, John Cassidy at the New Yorker mentions that there's a lot of public support for the bill, but "when pollsters point out to survey participants some of the things such a change would entail, support for the Sanders approach tends to drop quite sharply." For fear of allowing Republicans to cast Democrats as a tax monsters, politicians like Pelosi, Murray, and Cantwell prefer to cast themselves as righteous defenders of the ACA rather than fervent supporters of a more progressive healthcare system.

But there's no reason a Washington state Democrat like Murray can't fight off GOP attempts to repeal the ACA and also throw her support behind Medicare for All, unless of course she's feeling more pressure from the pharmaceutical companies that give her hundreds of thousands of dollars a year than from her constituents. Ditto Cantwell, who receives far less money from pharmaceutical companies, but who is up for re-election in 2018.

Constituents who want to know why neither of these Senators currently plan to sign onto Bernie's bill might call their staff and ask what's up. Maybe you'll get a different answer.

Senator Patty Murray (206) 553-5545
Senator Maria Cantwell (206) 220-6400


After the publication of this article, Senator Cantwell confirmed that she isn't supporting Medicare for All at this time:

“Health care is a right, not a privilege. Whether it is single payer, a Medicaid buy-in option, the Basic Health Plan, or one of the other options being discussed, we must achieve universal coverage, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. Senator Sanders's bill sparks a much needed conversation to achieve those goals. I look forward to continuing my work with Senator Sanders and others to find the best solution that covers everybody and is cost effective.”