First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides

First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides
© Greg Nash

Supporters of “Medicare for All” notched a victory Wednesday when one of Congress’s most powerful committees debated the progressive proposal, but the venue also gave Republicans an opportunity to paint proponents as socialists.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee were at odds with each other, and at times with the lively audience of Medicare for All advocates, over how to pay for a program that’s estimated to cost in the tens of trillions of dollars.

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It was the first time a congressional committee with jurisdiction over health care issues has held a hearing on the proposal, following two events hosted by the Rules and the Budget committees earlier this year.

“This is a historic step in the process of recognizing health care as a human right,” said Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (D-Minn.), co-chair of the House’s Medicare for All Caucus, at a press conference.

The hearing was mostly partisan and light on substance, with members using their allotted time to rail for or against the proposal instead of questioning the panel of health care experts and advocates at the witness table.

While Democrats are divided over the issue, they focused their collective fire on Republicans, accusing them of using “scare tactics” to fight back against any government expansion of health care.

“Today’s Republican condemnation of Medicare for All continues a great Republican tradition of opposing Medicare for anyone,” said Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 MORE (D-Texas), prompting both applause and laughter from the audience.

GOP lawmakers zeroed in on Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalShutting down plastics at the source Democrats to pass spending bill with Hyde despite 2020 uproar Democrats to pass spending bill with Hyde despite 2020 uproar MORE’s (D-Wash.) Medicare for All bill, which has 112 co-sponsors in the House.

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Republicans compared her measure to failed universal health care systems in countries like Romania, warning that single-payer would hurt children and seniors.

“We will not stand by and let Democrats seize your health care, your choice, and your control over life-and-death health decisions under Medicare for All,” said Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides House passes bipartisan IRS reform bill without 'Free File' provision MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member on the committee.

"When you pull the curtain back on Medicare for All, the truth is staring at you: Many Americans will pay more, wait longer for health care, and get worse care than you receive now,” he added.

Jayapal, who sat in the front row of the audience with a sour look on her face during Brady’s testimony, at one point commented, “Wow.”

“I have never heard a ranking member’s statement that was filled with not a single truth,” she later told reporters.

Wednesday’s event also highlighted the fact that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has the most control over health care issues, has not held a hearing on Medicare for All.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneKey senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs Key senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs Top Trump health official warned against controversial ObamaCare changes in private memo MORE (D-N.J.) has instead focused his committee’s work on strengthening the Affordable Care Act and lowering health care and prescription drug costs.

Jayapal told The Hill she will start conversations with Pallone “soon” about holding a hearing.

The hearing was more lively than the previous two Medicare for All hearings, with Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Fed opens door to rate cuts under pressure from Trump | Lawmakers, White House fail to reach budget deal | Democrats take aim at Trump policies with T spending bill | Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency On The Money: Fed opens door to rate cuts under pressure from Trump | Lawmakers, White House fail to reach budget deal | Democrats take aim at Trump policies with T spending bill | Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency Liberal group presses Democratic chairman to file lawsuit for Trump's tax returns quickly MORE (D-Mass.) admonishing the applauding and hollering audience several times.

At one point, a protester stood up to point and shout at Rep. Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides House to vote Monday on new version of IRS modernization bill MORE (R-Pa.) for referring to Medicare for All proposals as an expansion of red tape and bureaucracy.

“You’re beholden to corporate interests!” the protester shouted. “You only care about money!”

As the protester was led out of the room, Kelly said the health care debate “brings out the best and worst in people.”

Medicare for All proponents aren’t just pressuring Republicans, they’re also calling on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (D-Calif.) to allow a floor vote on the measure.

Supporters argue that Democratic leaders should be taking the proposal seriously given the number of backers in the 2020 field of presidential contenders.

Several Democrats running for president have backed the Senate version of Medicare for All sponsored by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Sanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Democrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll MORE (I-Vt.), a White House hopeful.

But not all Democratic candidates back the proposal, and that intraparty division was evident at Wednesday’s hearing as well.

While the Ways and Means Committee includes many Democratic co-sponsors of Jayapal’s bill, including Reps. John LewisJohn LewisGeorgia commissioner seeking M in damages after being punished for calling John Lewis a 'racist pig' Georgia commissioner seeking M in damages after being punished for calling John Lewis a 'racist pig' First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides MORE (Ga.), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (Ore.) and Linda Sánchez (Calif.), others like Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellHouse panel to hold hearings on SALT deduction cap House panel to hold hearings on SALT deduction cap First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides MORE (D-N.J.) would rather focus on adding a public insurance option via the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to compete with private insurance companies.

“The ACA subsidies could have been greater and we should have included a public option,” Pascrell said during the hearing. “Those two priorities, for me, must be on our agenda.”