Sanders secures health-care promises from Clinton before expected endorsement

By John Wagner and David Weigel
July 9, 2016

Hillary Clinton, in moves aimed at securing an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, on Saturday highlighted her support for a “public option” in health insurance and proposed additional funding for community-based centers championed by her rival for the Democratic nomination.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said in a statement that she would affirm her support for allowing states to offer government-run health plans as part of the Affordable Care Act. And she said she would support allowing people 55 and older to buy into Medicare, which is available to people 65 and older.

Those steps fall well short of the single-payer, “Medicare for all” program at the centerpiece of Sanders’s presidential campaign. But on a call with reporters Saturday, Sanders praised Clinton for “an important step forward” toward universal health care.

Clinton’s statement also included support for expanding funding by $40 billion over the next decade for primary-care services at ­community-based centers that serve largely rural areas, a long-standing priority for Sanders, a senator from Vermont.

“Together these steps will get us closer to the day when everyone in this country has access to quality, affordable health care,” Sanders told reporters.

He stopped short of confirming his widely reported plans to endorse Clinton at an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday, saying only that “we’ll have more to say in the very near future.”

Clinton’s updated health-care proposal was the second last week that incorporated elements of Sanders’s agenda. On Wednesday, she announced her support for providing free tuition at public colleges and universities to families earning up to $125,000 a year — a major nod to a free-tuition-for-all campaign proposal Sanders pushed that was wildly popular among younger voters.

Sanders was also moving aggressively this weekend — with mixed results — to exert additional influence on the platform of the Democratic National Committee at a meeting in Orlando. His allies on the platform committee were seeking amendments to move the party’s position leftward on issues including trade and fracking.

On Friday night, the platform committee adopted language calling for a $15 minimum wage at the federal level, a Sanders priority on the campaign trail. The amendment strengthened a provision already in the party’s draft document that endorsed efforts of states such as New York and California to adopt the higher threshold.

But two Sanders-backed amendments on Social Security policy got speedy rejections. One would have eliminated the cap on Social Security taxes; another would have created a new cost-of-living index for Social Security benefits to replace the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.

On Saturday morning, Sanders was dealt an even tougher blow when the platform committee rejected two amendments to put the party on record against the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade agreement among the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations that is opposed by most Democrats and labor unions but supported by President Obama.

Labor leaders who supported Clinton had tried to mollify Sanders supporters with an amendment in opposition to “trade agreements that do not support good American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security.” What they saw as language that subtly attacked the TPP, Sanders’s allies saw as empty rhetoric that would allow presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to seize the fair-trade mantle in November.

“The majority of Democrats, like the majority of Americans, are against the TPP,” said Benjamin Jealous, the former president of the NAACP who introduced Sanders’s amendment on the trade deal. “Hillary is against the TPP. Bernie is against the TPP. Let’s not be bureaucrats — let’s be leaders.”

Democrats opted against that. Just 74 members of the 187-member platform committee backed Jealous’s amendment, and only 71 backed an amendment to oppose a vote on the trade deal this year, which sponsor Jim Hightower called “political Viagra” for Democrats. A simple majority was needed to pass the amendments.

After the TPP votes, Warren Gunnels, Sanders’s policy director, issued a statement: “We will continue fighting to protect American jobs and to ensure Congress does not pass this disastrous trade agreement.”

The result stoked worry about Sanders’s other priorities, including the Medicare-for-all health-care plank and a national ban on fracking, a controversial procedure for extracting natural gas.

“They refuse to take a stance on TPP because they won’t oppose fracking,” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, a Florida environmental activist. “If we want to avert the worst cases of climate change, we have to have more localized economies. Free-trade agreements are anathema to localized economies.”

The Sanders and Clinton camps spent long portions of the day in secluded conversations, trying to avert a floor fight on climate. They succeeded, boiling down the demands of both camps into amendment arguing that “carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities” and calling for “wind, solar and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.”

Josh Fox, the director of the “Gasland” series of documentaries, took the floor shortly after 9 p.m. to declare victory. His favored change — a call for an outright ban on fracking — had not survived. But the party had codified criticism of the natural gas industry for the first time, and done so unanimously.

In a tweet, he conceded defeat on the fracking ban but argued that “we won something huge — a victory for renewable energy over fracking power plants.”

Gunnels said in statement: “As a result of this plan natural gas is no longer regarded as a bridge to the future. The future of America’s energy system now clearly belongs to sun and wind power.”

Though Clinton effectively clinched the Democratic nomination a month ago, Sanders has been slow to offer full-throated support of her general election bid against Trump. Instead, Sanders has sought to extract concessions on policy issues central to his campaign.

In Clinton’s statement Saturday, her campaign went to some lengths to suggest that her positions on health care were not new. It noted, for example, that she supported a public option during her failed 2008 presidential campaign.

During debate over the Affordable Care Act the following year, Congress considered including a government-run plan to compete with private insurers nationwide, but that was ultimately dropped.

During the early stages of her 2016 campaign, Clinton emphasized numerous steps to build upon Obama’s landmark health-care law. She later revived her support for a public option, adding a provision to the

health-care proposal on her website, saying she would work with “interested governors” to offer their constituents an opportunity to buy into a government-run program under “current flexibility” provided by the Affordable Care Act.

On Saturday, Clinton’s campaign also noted she had supported allowing people younger than 65 to buy into Medicare in 2001, when she was a senator from New York.

In her statement, Clinton recounted other initiatives she has put forward during her current campaign, adding: “We have more work to do to finish our long fight to provide universal, quality, affordable health care to everyone in America.”