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New Litmus Test for 2020 Democratic Hopefuls: Bernie’s ‘Medicare for All’

When Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced Monday that he would be throwing his support behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) so-called “Medicare for All” bill, he followed in the footsteps of other potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Booker announced on NJTV that he would be co-sponsoring Sanders’ upcoming bill championing a single-payer health care system. Although he has showered former President Barack Obama with high praise for passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Booker said Monday that Obama did not travel far enough down the single-payer system road.

"You should not be punished because you are working-class or poor and be denied health care. I think health care should be a right to all," Booker told NJTV. "This is something that's got to happen. Obamacare was a first step in advancing this country, but I won't rest until every American has a basic security that comes with having access to affordable health care."

Booker joined the small club of Democratic senators rallying around Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill, which is expected to be unveiled Wednesday and could cost the government billions or trillions of dollars to sustain. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), also one of the Democratic Party's most prominent rising stars, become the first Democratic senator to back the bill openly last week.

"I'll break some news: I intend to co-sponsor the Medicare for All bill because it's just the right thing to do," Harris said at a church in Oakland, California, last week. "It's so much better people have meaningful access to affordable health care at every stage from birth on ... This is about understanding health care should be a right, and not a privilege."

Flagrantly progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) threw in her support for the bill shortly after Harris.

"There is something fundamentally wrong when one of the richest and most powerful countries on the planet can't make sure that a person can afford to see a doctor when they're sick. This isn't any way to live," Warren said in a fundraising email. "Health care is a basic human right and it's time to fight for it."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also opted to back Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill Monday. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) supports the bill as well.

These six senators now openly have embraced the progressive idea of a single-payer system that once existed on the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party.

The momentum among Democratic 2020 hopefuls showcases the scale of Sanders' early influence over the 2020 Democratic process.

Twenty years ago, mainstream Democrats wouldn't even dream of voting support for something so radical as a European-style health care system. But with six senators co-sponsoring the "Medicare for All" bill, fringe policies have been brought successfully into the Democratic fold.

"We're going to put together a grassroots movement that organizes people in all parts of this country much like we did during the presidential race," Sanders wrote in a fundraising email championing single-payer health care in early September. "There will be rallies, buttons, bumper stickers, shirts and most importantly people organizing in their communities across the country."

Although Sanders told The Washington Post in late August that supporting single-payer health care wan't necessary a "litmus test" for Democratic candidate hopefuls, he noted that "you're seeing more and more movement toward 'Medicare for All,' when the people are saying we need health care for everyone. As more and more Americans come on board, it will become politically possible."

"Could people run? Sure," Sanders said of Democrats that don't back "Medicare for All." "Do I think they can win without supporting single payer? I'm skeptical. Among the people who consider themselves progressive, who vote in the primaries, there's clearly movement toward 'Medicare for All.'"

Earlier in September, the center-left think tank Third Way begged the Democratic Party to promote itself as "the jobs party" instead of focusing on divisive, far-left policies. Third Way based its report on data from a Global Strategy Group study that polled Obama supporters who voted across party lines for Trump in 2016, as well as African-American, Latino, and millennial voters.

"Even as the economy approaches full employment, there remains a real economic anxiety, and people will always aspire to new and better job opportunities. Trump spoke to this — and voters responded," the Global Strategy Group's report read. "To rebuild the party and regain the power to enact their priorities, Democrats need to craft a broad path that's inclusive of a diverse coalition and sustainable across election cycles. Reclaiming its status as the party of jobs is a unifying way to do just that."

The group warned that embracing Sanders' progressive policies and "rallying around proposals like free college or universal basic income just exacerbate[s] this resentment" that the select groups of voters felt in 2016. "Effective policy solutions to bolster economic security are vital, but they must begin with job creation and be tethered to the values of hard work and earning your way that underscore America's economic compact."

Democrats are also worrying over whether placating Sanders' far-left, anti-Establishment supporters will alienate moderate Democrats to such a degree that it will be impossible to gain congressional majorities in 2018 and the presidency in 2020. When Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released the "Better Deal" economic package proposal earlier in the year in an attempt to refocus and reclaim blue-collar Americans who voted for Trump, single-payer health care was noticeably absent.

(photo credit, homepage image: Gage Skidmore/Senate Democrats/Mobilus In Mobili, Flickr/Wikimedia; photo credit, article image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)