Interview with Congressman Joe Kennedy III: Healthcare and the future of the Democratic party

Interview with Congressman Joe Kennedy III: Healthcare and the future of the Democratic party

Since the beginning of the Trump Presidency, the future of health care in the United States has been in limbo. The American Health Care Act, introduced in early March this year, was originally defeated, but a second version passed the House in April, passing the health care buck to the Senate.

Prospects for the Senate GOP originally appeared better than the House. Mitch McConnell had built the reputation of a master parliamentarian through years of obstructionism during the Obama administration, and with the budget reconciliation process and the momentum of the House at his back, it seemed unlikely that his grip on the Republican caucus would falter. 

But the Senate didn't have a plan. The original Better Care Reconciliation Act was introduced on June 22nd, far after the momentum from the House GOP had faltered. The secrecy of the drafting process sullied the reveal when news outlets were quick to recall GOP criticism of similar procedures used during the drafting of the ACA. Multiple GOP senators were quite literally locked out of the room when key provisions of the legislation were installed, and when the bill finally saw daylight, it was defeated in just 5 days.

Following the first BCRA, the GOP churned out multiple versions of health care legislation, many of which were designed only to pass the Senate so that an actual piece of viable legislation could be developed in a conference committee. On July 13th, the second version of the BCRA was introduced: it was defeated 12 days later on July 25th. The Partial Repeal, a 2015 revival which repealed but did not replace any parts of Obamacare, was introduced on July 19th and defeated on the 22nd. The Skinny Repeal, a bill eliminating some regulations from the ACA and removing funding for health care subsidies, a provision which would literally sandbag the US insurance market, was dramatically defeated when John McCain gave a thumbs down on the Senate floor on July 28th. And most recently, facing a September 30th budget reconciliation deadline, Graham Cassidy, a bill allowing states to determine the use of heath care monies raised under Obamacare mandates, was introduced on September 13th. It was defeated 4 days before the budget reconciliation deadline on September 26th. 

On September 23rd, three weeks ago, the Politics Beat sat down with Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat representing Massachusetts' 4th district in the seat long held by the legendary Barney Frank. Throughout Republican efforts to redefine heath care law as a market-based system, Democrats have been incredibly successful at establishing the moral case for government involvement. Kennedy made a contribution to that case with a speech in committee during the original AHCA debate, one that received over 10 million views on the Congressman's Facebook page. But aside from the moral case against reductions in health care spending or government regulation, Democrats have offered their own legislative alternative.

Bernie Sanders' Medicare For All plan, a proposal which would establish a baseline of government funded care for all Americans, has garnered significant support among members of the Democratic party, many of whom are considered likely candidates for the Presidency in 2020. During our interview, I asked Congressman Kennedy whether he, a rising star in the Democratic Party, believes that support of a Sanders-type plan for socialized medicine will be a litmus test for future candidates of the Democratic Party. 

This is what he had to say: 

Kennedy:

What you’re seeing at the moment is Senator Sanders reducing those ideas that he has had about ensuring that everybody gets access to quality affordable accessible heath care, to paper – which he deserves an awful lot of credit for – and those are the same values that I believe in. The issue is, how you get there is challenging and that’s complicated, and you’ve got, I think its 15 Senators at the last count who are on that bill, you’ve got another number of other Senators that are putting out alternatives to say "look, that’s the value, how is it that we actually structure it to get to that point?" And, as much as people don’t love incrementalism, this is I think how part of this debate is going to go. There’s some legislation in the house that seeks to get to that same point—its called the "Medicare for All Bill"—

Cosentino:

But nothing that’s going to get anywhere

Kennedy:

But the way that they go about the details of that proposal I actually think are, well, there are parts of it that give me pause. So I think the issue is not a litmus test of “do you believe if everyone deserves access to healthcare or not?” – yes –

Cosentino:

            But do you think that’s where the Democratic party is going? Party-wide support for socialized medicine, a government option, medicare for all, whatever you want to call it, is that what it is going to mean to be a Democrat?

Kennedy:

            I think the party is already, is already a point where we say “everybody gets access to healthcare: quality, affordable healthcare” – Yes, period, were all there. The next question is, okay, well, what does that political framework look like and how is it that we can structure those steps to get to that point? There’s a whole lot of different ideas about that and part of that is going to depend on the political dynamic, just going forwards, so whether that’s lowering the age of Medicare, whether that’s a Medicaid public option, whether that’s a Medicare public option, whether that’s the destruction of the existing system and the construction of an actual single payer system, etc. So those are kind of three or four different ways of going about it – and I think that that has to play itself out. I look at this and say everyone is under the same tent in terms of the value, lets get some ideas out there and try to see how the actual analysis here works because as it turns out, healthcare is complicated. 

So what does all of this mean? For now, Republicans are without a caucus willing to pass health care reform. Even if they are able to do so before the 2018 midterm elections, a Democratic Congress would take wide-ranging action to replace the legislation with a President who could likely be convinced to sign it. What Democrats want to do with health care matters, and nobody can deny that Medicare for All seems to be what party leaders want. 

Congressman Joe Kennedy has shown his ability to speak to national passions, whether it be on health care, or the subject of any of his other Facebook videos which now receive millions of views. Kennedy has long been described as a rising star in the Democratic party, not to mention his bipartisan appeal as a congressman known for reaching across the aisle. 

But even as a future leader of the Party, Kennedy expresses hesitation about moving forward too quickly on the Sanders plan. I believe that this concern is likely representative of the moderate wing of the Democratic party, some of whom had difficulty swallowing the ACA, looking to better research and understand what an improved market-based system might look like, or perhaps avoid the partisan pendulum swing that might be induced by enacting  the current Medicare for All plan. As Kennedy said, everyone in the Democratic party has the same value – quality affordable, accessible health care. And while he believes that Medicare for all might be the solution, he is unwilling to jettison the vast body of public policy scholarship which proposes other solutions without proper consideration. I think most Americans might agree. 

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