What Is Behind Mayor Pete’s Corporate Pivot on Medicare?

October 29, 2019

Pete Buttigieg's sudden shift from supporting to opposing Medicare for All has been remarkable. It no doubt has something to do with his fundraising, says RootsAction.org's Norman Solomon.

Pete Buttigieg's sudden shift from supporting to opposing Medicare for All has been remarkable. It no doubt has something to do with his fundraising, says RootsAction.org's Norman Solomon.


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Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Greg Wilpert: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. In the race for the democratic party’s presidential nomination, the perhaps biggest and single issue has been healthcare, and more specifically the proposal for Medicare for All. Both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren are strong proponents of Medicare for All. One who used to support the proposal but no longer does, is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. For example, in a tweet that he sent out last year, he said admittedly in a sarcastic tone, “I. Pete Buttigieg, politician. Do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, onto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All.” However, more recently in the course of this year, he has become a strong critic of Medicare for All. Here’s what he said during the last democratic presidential debate.

Pete Buttigieg: Your signature Senator is to have a plan for everything except this, no plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward, is supposed to get filled in. And the thing is we really can deliver healthcare for every American and move forward with the boldest, biggest transformation since the inception of Medicare itself. But the way to do it without a giant multi-trillion dollar hole, and without having to avoid a yes or no question, is Medicare for All Who Want it. We take a version of Medicare, we let you access it if you want to, and if you prefer to stay on your private plan, you can do that too. That is what most Americans want.

Greg Wilpert: But why did Buttigieg’s turn about happen and how? Even though Buttigieg is still in the fourth place in most opinion polls, after Biden, Sanders, and Warren, he’s rapidly rising in Iowa, the first state to hold a democratic party caucus next year. Also, he’s far ahead of Biden in the fundraising race. As such, his role should not be ignored. Joining me now to discuss Buttigieg’s shift on Medicare and where it comes from and what it means is Norman Solomon. He is co founder and national coordinator of rootsaction.org, also is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. Thanks for joining us again, Norman.

Norman Solomon: Glad to Greg, thank you.

Greg Wilpert: So let’s start with what Buttigieg is saying about Medicare for All. We saw this brief clip from the debate, what is your reaction to his argument on this issue?

Norman Solomon: Well, it helps to follow the money and follow the corporate media. In terms of money, he’s been raking in contributions from the pharmaceutical, and hospital, and insurance industries all year. And also there’s been a tremendous amount of corporate media attacking of Medicare for All. And what’s happened is that Buttigieg has arrived at a conclusion that the best way for him to clear his own path toward the nomination, is to swing against Medicare for All. He has come up with this sort of catchy or pseudo catchy slogan, Medicare for All Who Want it, which we could understand as health care profiteering, for those who can get away with it. And that’s really what he’s up to.

It’s helped to clarify, I think, for some progressives who might’ve had a positive impression of him in some respects. To understand where he’s coming from, he’s raking in a lot of money. And a lot of it is from corporate sources. And one thing I point out, Greg, is that when you look at the filings of the various candidates, you see that a little more than half of the total money that Buttigieg has brought in this year for his campaign, has come from $200 or more in single donations. And that’s more than double of the figure, which is about 25% for Bernie Sanders, and almost double what Elizabeth Warren is bringing in, 29% of her total dollars are from people giving in amounts of 200 or more. Well, that’s sort of a marker of the class forces that are supporting these candidates. And it’s very clear that when you look at the huge issue of healthcare, Buttigieg has decided to attack the very concept of healthcare as a human right. Even though of course, like all the other candidates, he gives lip service to that concept.

Greg Wilpert: Explain that a little bit more. I mean, why is it an attack on the concept of healthcare as a human right, if you say that anybody who wants Medicare can have it?

Norman Solomon: Yeah. Well this whole public option that he’s putting forward, that Buttigieg is trying to promote leaves really tens of millions of people uninsured. And in theory, and sort of the buzz word is affordable. The architects of these kind of so-called public options plans are talking about making healthcare affordable. And yet we’ve seen what that means in practice. It means often very high deductibles, very high premiums, and a lot of people who can’t even afford a to enter into the bad deal in the first place. It relies on the marketplace per se, on the economics of it would be to undermine the possibility of Medicare for All. So in theory it’s saying, “Oh yeah, we want to cover everybody.” In practice it’s saying “The marketplace will be benign and the government will just enter into this new configuration of offering healthcare.”

The bottom line is, is healthcare human rights or not? We don’t say to people, “Well maybe you can get a junior high school education, depending on X, Y, and Z.” We say, “No, you have a human right to K through 12.” And eventually we’ll get to the point where, “Yes, you have a human right, a civic right to tuition free public college.” We’re not there yet, but if you were to go back a 100, 150 years ago, you had people saying, “Well public junior high school, public high school for those who want it.” But there’s a catch and we’ll let the marketplace interplay. And the marketplace is all about maximizing profits. The pharmaceutical, the hospital insurance industries, they are, as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been pointing out all year, those industries are about reading the maximum amounts of profit, out of providing the minimum amount of healthcare. And that’s not healthcare as a human right. That’s healthcare as a way to gouge people and maximize corporate profits.

Greg Wilpert: Now a little bit earlier, you were pointing out the class differences in terms of support that Buttigieg is getting in compared to Warren and Sanders, do you think that Buttigieg is being groomed right now as the Biden alternative, should Biden fail? In order to avoid a Sanders or Warren nomination for the democratic party?

Norman Solomon: Well, corporate Democrats are in a real pickle right now, because they’ve put their money literally and figuratively on Joe Biden. He’s underperforming as the saying goes and there’s not a lot of backup. Cory Booker is in low single digits, another Wall Street friendly candidate. And Kamala Harris isn’t doing much better in the polls and others have already sunk away who Wall Street would be comfortable with such as Kirsten Gilibrand. So you’ve got a situation where they’re running out of options, or if you’ll forgive the sport’s metaphor, corporate Democrats don’t have a deep bench. They have hardly any bench at all.

And so Buttigieg is doing reasonably well in the national polls somewhat, but really well in Iowa. And the hope among corporate Democrats is if Biden continues to flat line, or at least gradually fade in terms of being a strong contender, they do need a backup. Iowa being the first place where in early February, Democrats will cast ballots in the caucus there. There is this hope, maybe it’s not just a fantasy that Buttigieg will carry Iowa and then steamroller through New Hampshire, and even though he does not appeal at all to African American voters, corporate Democrats certainly want to deny the nomination to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. On Wall Street, both of those candidates, Sanders and Warren are a nightmare. It’s a nightmare on Wall Street.

Greg Wilpert: Okay, well we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Norman Sullivan, co founder and national coordinator of rootsaction.org. Thanks again, Norman for having joined us.

Norman Solomon: Thank you, Greg.

Greg Wilpert: And thank you for joining the Real News Network.