with Paulina Firozi


The intense political debate around Medicare-for-all is raising a more existential question for politicians: Does embracing the policy make them socialists? 

Sen. Bernie Sanders — the independent from Vermont who first coined the term Medicare-for-all to describe his single-payer legislation — is more than eager to accept the socialist label, unlike many of his Democratic colleagues. Yesterday Sanders delivered an extensive defense of his long-standing democratic socialist views, in a speech that laid bare internal philosophical divisions among Democrats as they seek to defeat President Trump next year.

“Democratic socialism means to me requiring and achieving political and economic freedom in every community in this country.” Sanders said in a 45-minute address at George Washington University, in which he invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and former president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Sanders said he understood he would face “massive attacks from those who attempt to use the world ‘socialism’ as a slur,” my Washington Post colleague Sean Sullivan reports. Sanders added: “I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades. And I am not the only one.”

Sanders is right about this much: He’s not the only person Republicans are calling a socialist over a whole spectrum of health care ideas, from universal coverage to providing a public option. And not everyone appreciates the label.

Democrats often complain that Republicans rush to apply the label to any effort to increase the role of government in providing Americans with social services. Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill would indeed be a vast government rearrangement of health-care resources, but other lawmakers have proposed a gamut of bills, including measures that would merely lower the Medicare eligibility age or allow people to buy into Medicaid.

In yesterday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing on universal health coverage — the third such panel this year — Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) said the GOP opposition to Medicare-for-all “continues a great Republican tradition of opposing Medicare for anyone.”

“The Affordable Care Act was attacked by Republicans as the crown jewel of socialism,” Doggett said. “All of this simply masked a Republican Party that, when it comes to health care, is intellectually bankrupt and is offering only nothing-care.”

Politico's Alice Ollstein:

Democrats share a goal of extending health coverage to the remaining 27 million uninsured Americans. But they’re deeply divided over how to do that. Even as progressives like Sanders and other presidential candidates push Medicare-for-all, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has no interest in forcing her caucus to vote on what would be such a large-scale and costly overhaul of the United States health-care system.

And many Democrats are uncomfortable with being called “socialist.” That’s not too surprising, considering a majority of U.S. voters say they prefer capitalism and especially value free-market approaches to health care and wealth distribution. Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe socialism isn’t compatible with American values, according to a Monmouth University survey in April.

Hill Republicans circulated this video on Twitter. Via Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.):

“So-called ‘democratic socialism’ is nothing more than a Trojan horse, and it would destroy our country and destroy our way of life,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Some Democrats resent such labeling by Republicans, charging that the past they’ve applied the term "socialist" to programs the party now embraces.

“When we did Social Security, it was socialist. When we did Medicare, it was socialist,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told my Post colleague Mike DeBonis.

“People like to throw labels out … We can waste lots of time doing that, or we can keep putting good ideas out there like Medicare-for-all and big, bold ideas to lower the cost of prescription drugs and raise the minimum wage,” Pocan added.

Sanders is the only presidential candidate who has fully embraced a socialist platform, Sean writes. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wants vigorous government regulation, still describes herself as a capitalist. Other candidates, including former vice president Joe Biden, want to work within the capitalist system to enlarge the social safety net. (Here’s a great explainer from my Post colleague Amber Phillips on where the presidential candidates stand on socialism. Spoiler alert: Sanders is the only member of the “socialism is good faction.”)

“The rise of Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), also a democratic socialist, has caused friction with more traditional Democrats,” Sean writes. “Many Democratic candidates for president and Congress favor a less dramatic upheaval than what Sanders is advocating, but Republicans have nonetheless sought to tar all Democrats with the socialist label, including in a closely-watched do-over election in North Carolina.”

“Republicans want to make this a labels debate. And a labels debate is tricky for Democrats,” Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch told Sean.


AHH: Down with the “manel,” says Francis Collins. The National Institutes of Health leader announced he will decline invitations to speak on all-male panels.

“Starting now, when I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities,” Collins said in a statement. “If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part. I challenge other scientific leaders across the biomedical enterprise to do the same.”

He said he wants to “send a clear message of concern: it is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as ‘manels.’ ” Women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are often conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences."

“Collins speaks about 125 times annually, according to NIH, often as a keynote speaker but sometimes as part of a panel,” our Post colleague Lenny Bernstein writes. “His announcement is more important than his personal speaking schedule as a signal that one of the world’s top scientists is addressing the issue, according to an activist working for women in science.”

The statement is the second time in the last year he’s spoken out about the treatment of women in science, Lenny adds, after he expressed concern about sexual harassment last fall, saying that it poses a “major obstacle that is keeping women from achieving their rightful place in science.”

OOF: An independent review found the former chief executive of the University of Maryland Medical system made business deals with board members, including former Baltimore mayor Catherine E. Pugh, that weren’t properly vetted or disclosed, our Post colleague Rachel Chason reports.

“Pugh — whose first deals with the board came when she was a state senator — resigned as mayor, and Chrencik resigned as head of the $4.4 billion hospital network, amid the fallout from the scandal, which has led to an exodus of top UMMS officials and an overhaul of the system’s board structure and governance,” Rachel writes. “The review also found that many contracts with board members for ‘professional services’ — including employee insurance, pest control and ambulances — were not competitively bid on a regular basis either, or properly vetted by the board.”

The new review is the first public account of the deals since the initial reports that the medical system was involved in business deals with board members.

OUCH: Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) agreed to withdraw comments she made on the House floor referring to her colleagues as "sex-starved males."

“It is tiring to hear from so many sex-starved males on this floor talk about a woman’s right to choose,” Torres said during a debate about a Health and Human Services spending bill that would reverse Trump administration rules on the Title X family planning program and its “conscience protection” rule. She was quickly asked by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) if she wanted to withdraw her remark, which she said she would do.

“If it pleases my colleagues on the other side. I will withdraw my statement about sex-starved males on the floor,” she said. She continued: “Choosing when women want to have a family and to avoid pregnancies … it is unfortunate that that is something that continues to be denied to American women day in and day out on this floor.”

Torres explained in an interview off the chamber floor why she made the remark, our Post colleagues Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis report. "You have to be pretty sex-starved to keep thinking about sex every single minute of your day and keep bringing this issue up on everything, whether it’s foreign aid, whether it’s domestic aid, whether it’s health care — they bring it up,” she said.


— Democratic lawmakers who were pushing to strip longstanding restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortion from Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill have reportedly backed down from the effort over concerns about undermining the entire spending bill.

House leadership blocked an effort to include a provision that would remove the Hyde Amendment, which limits federal funding on abortion, the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports.

“I think we don’t have the votes that we need,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) “It’s frustrating. I actually think the country is with us.”

“Jayapal and other progressive Democrats acknowledged the move to eliminate the 43-year-old Hyde language would be blocked in the GOP-led Senate and would never be signed into law by President Trump,” Susan writes.

“I would repeal it tomorrow, and I think that is overwhelmingly the feeling in our caucus,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus. She added: “But at this point … we felt that the Hyde Amendment was going to become a focal point that would collapse everything in the Labor-H bill that is so good for American families.”

— Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the panel is set to mark up legislation on lowering drug prices this month, the Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports.

The markup will include a bill from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that aims to crack down on drug companies that try to delay competition by gaming the patent system.

“The action from the Judiciary Committee is a sign of the movement on the issue of drug pricing in both parties, which could provide Congress with a rare bipartisan achievement this year,” Peter writes. “The Senate Finance Committee is also moving forward with drug pricing legislation this month or next.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) may have found some common ground again — this time on over-the-counter birth control.

After Ocasio-Cortez tweeted suggesting “birth control should be over-the-counter,” Cruz responded saying he agrees. “Perhaps ... we can team up here as well,” he said.

The pair said late last month that their staffs were working together on legislation to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists after they leave office. That partnership seemingly got started on Twitter, too, after Cruz retweeted a post from Ocasio-Cortez about former lawmakers taking lobbying jobs, an interaction that our Post colleague Colby wrote then “put in motion the most shocking political pairing in American history, or at least in recent memory.”


— Planned Parenthood’s political arm announced it will host a forum on abortion access later this month for members of the crowded Democratic primary field.

So far, 16 candidates have confirmed they will participate in the event, which will be held in Columbia, S.C., on June 22, the weekend of the state Democratic Party convention, the New York Times’s Lisa Lerer reports.

The candidates will be asked questions for 15 minutes apiece about their views on issues related to abortion access, contraception and health care. The forum is the "first event in recent presidential campaigns singularly focused on women’s health," Lisa writes. 


— Two individuals have sued a Florida-based insurance company Health Insurance Innovations in federal court alleging they were misled about the type of policies they were purchasing.

The policy holders thought they were buying Affordable Care Act plans, but they “were sold much less comprehensive coverage that left them vulnerable to tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills, according to the lawsuit,” the New York Times’s Reed Abelson reports, adding: “Their complaints underscore problems with some types of cheaper health insurance alternatives that the Trump administration has expanded. Critics of the government’s decision, including the Association for Community Affiliated Plans and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are also suing the Trump administration over relaxation of rules for these plans.”

The two individuals are looking at a potential class-action case, estimating there could be 500,000 people who bought the policies. In a statement, the company said it will “vigorously defend ourselves against all such allegations.”


— The 5-year-old Congolese boy who was the first diagnosed case of Ebola outside of the Congo died overnight Tuesday.

After the child’s diagnosis was reported, authorities said two other cases of Ebola were confirmed in western Uganda, a signal of how the deadly virus is spreading outside of the Congo after a year-long outbreak there, our Post colleague Max Bearak reports. The two other cases are family members — a 3-year-old brother and a 50-year-old grandmother — of the deceased boy.

“The outbreak has infected at least 2,062 people in Congo, and about 1,400 have died,” Max writes. “Until Tuesday, it had been somewhat confined to a densely populated area in Congo’s North Kivu province. It is the worst outbreak of the virus since a massive epidemic swept through three West African countries from 2014 to 2016, killing more than 11,000.”

— And here are a few more good reads: 


Coming Up

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on the Lower Health Care Costs Act on June 18.
  • The Washington Post will host leading health policymakers, top doctors and researchers for a live event examining the latest developments in cancer prevention, detection and treatment on June 18.

President Trump and Melania Trump discussed the opioid epidemic at a White House roundtable: