During an interview Monday with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Joe Biden suggested that as president he might veto Medicare-for-all, or even a compromised version of it, if it passed the House and Senate and landed on his desk.
“If they got that through and by some miracle, there was an epiphany that occurred and some miracle occurred that said, ‘okay, it’s passed,’ then you gotta look at the cost,” the former vice president said. “I want to know. How did they find the $35 trillion? What is that doing? Is it going to significantly raise taxes on the middle class—which it will. What’s gonna happen?”
“Look, my opposition isn’t to the principle that you should have Medicare. Health care should be a right in America,” Biden continued. “My opposition relates to whether or not A) it’s doable, 2) what the cost is, and what the consequences for the rest of the budget are.”
The path to universal health care has been perhaps the most hotly debated topic of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary—as it was in 2016. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders proposes a Medicare-for-all/single-payer system that would cover every American so that at the point of entry, care is free. Depending on how it is framed, the plan is popular, particularly among Democrats. Biden’s plan, on the other hand, is a public option under which Americans could buy into a public plan that competes with private alternatives. Biden’s own campaign estimates that it would leave as many as 10 million Americans uninsured.
The former vice president’s remarks about weighing the benefits of signing a universal health care bill against nebulous cost concerns set off a firestorm on Twitter. With another round of primaries mere hours away, progressives and Sanders supporters were quick to pounce, expressing shock and outrage.
“Vetoing a universal healthcare bill is some real sicko shit,” tweeted Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, a crowdsourced policy think tank.
“Joe Biden just said he would veto Medicare for All,” wrote Jacobin writer Meagan Day. “His position isn’t to profess support in theory but plead political impossibility, which is bad enough. No, Joe Biden’s stance is that if the legislation were to succeed politically he would kill it with his bare hands.”
Some left-wing voices even suggested the position would cost the former VP their votes in November. “Medicare for all is one of my top issues. My dad would probably be alive if we had it. If you want my vote you have to earn it,” tweeted progressive YouTube host Kyle Kullinski. “Corporate Dems are so persistent in telling me to fuck off, so I will. Even if Biden gets the nomination I won't vote for him.”
Progressive activist Ryan Knight expressed a similar view. “Tonight @Joe Biden said he'd 'veto' Medicare-For-All. This is not how it works anymore. The corporate Democrats don't get to just tell us to fuck off,” he wrote. “If he gets the nomination then he has to EARN our vote and the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters support #MedicareForAll.”
Biden supporters were quick to weigh in to try to put any potential fire caused by the former vice president’s remarks on the eve of anther round of primaries, including Michigan.
“Okay, you’ve seen that viral tweet about how Biden said he’d veto Medicare for All. That’s clearly NOT what he said,” wrote Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall. “He says what his opposition is based on, says he agrees with it in principle and goes out of his way not to say he’d veto it. Watch and decide.”
The former vice president has made little effort to woo the left. Earlier in the night, at a rally in Michigan, he’d singled out a protester holding a sign that read, “NAFTA killed jobs.” Biden, who voted for the trade agreement, took the moment to mock the man as the crowd jeered.
“No, no,” the vice president coaxed the crowd. “Let him go…the Bernie Bros are here.”
Even before he announced his candidacy, the former VP said he had “no empathy” for young people talking about how bad things were.
Biden is currently the front-runner in the 2020 Democratic primary, expected to make a strong showing in today’s primaries. He has pitched his campaign as a return to Obama era normalcy in contrast to the sweeping vision laid out by rival Bernie Sanders. Throughout the campaign, the former vice president has repeatedly dismissed the idea that “revolution” is the path forward for the Democratic Party.