For Kamala Harris, single-payer is finally more than just a good ‘concept’

California’s Senator Kamala Harris, seen by many as an inevitable Democratic candidate for president in 2020, announced she will co-sponsor Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare bill, becoming the first Democrat in the Senate to sign onto the proposed legislation.

Harris, at a town hall in Oakland Wednesday night:

“Here, I’ll break some news: I intend to co-sponsor the Medicare-for-all bill, because it’s just the right thing to do. It is so much better that people have meaningful access to healthcare, from birth through the rest of their lives. The alternative is that we, as taxpayers, are spending huge amounts of money to send them to emergency rooms.”

Harris, like many Democrats, has long supported universal healthcare in theory, tweeting in March her belief that “health care is a right, not a privilege” and telling a Torrance, California, crowd in July “As a concept, I’m completely in support of single-payer, but we’ve got to work out the details, and the details matter on that.” Such statements have reflected the growing support for a single-payer system nationwide, but Harris coming out in favor of actual legislation — and the fact that she is seen by many establishment Democrats as the future of the party — means the days of “Medicare for All” being limited to protesters’ signs and vague platitudes from politicians may be coming to an end.

It’s a smart move on Harris’ part, and likely the only one she could make to start winning over leftists both in and outside the party who question aspects of her record and whose support she’ll need to mount an effective campaign. She is also in a unique position to help champion the policy — she’s early in her term and the GOP is in shambles in her state — so any political risk she might take on is minimal, especially because, as Sanders has acknowledged, the odds of the bill passing in the upcoming session are nil. So why not back it? Get in on the ground level when there’s not much to lose, and be on the right side of history when the rest of your colleagues finally resign themselves to the sea change.

Which is not to sound too cynical: The best reason to take action on true universal care instead of just paying the notion lip service is because, as Harris notes, it’s the morally right thing to do. While intra-party feuding among Democrats remains frustrating to anyone, Harris’ spotlight and the many think pieces that would elevate the profile of Medicare-for All and position it as a centerpiece for the party’s future platforms. So at least something good can come out of the perpetual and tedious rehashing of the 2016 primary.

[photo: Getty]