High-profile Democrats are rallying around Sen. Bernard Sanders' plan to offer "Medicare for all," as the push for universal, government-run coverage gains steam in the wake of the GOP's failure to kill Obamacare.
"Health care is a right, not a privilege," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, tweeted early Tuesday, becoming the latest in a line of rising Democratic stars to back the single-payer bill that Mr. Sanders will unveil on Wednesday.
Support for single-payer care is emerging as a key test for Democrats ahead of the 2018 mid-terms and campaign to defeat President Trump, even though that contest is three years away.
Besides Ms. Gillibrand, senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey are among potential 2020 contenders who've backed Mr. Sanders' push.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, a liberal Democrat from Oregon, highlighted his support in a new fundraising pitch, and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, joined the chorus around lunchtime Tuesday.
Progressives are emboldened by the GOP's sputtering effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying Congress should now look beyond the 2010 law to cover the nearly 30 million Americans who remain uninsured.
"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," Mr. Booker told NJTV Monday.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from July said a slim majority supports the idea of getting insurance from a single government plan, though support was divided among party lines and shifted with language for instance, more people like the idea of "Medicare for all" than a "single-payer health insurance system."
The groundswell of support is a shift from nearly two decades ago, when support stood around 40 percent, and for Democrats themselves, who couldn't rally around a more limited "public option" to compete with private plans during the debate over Obamacare in 2009 and 2010.
Some Democrats still aren't sold on a nationwide plan to usher in single-payer.
"Before we try it for our country, the idea of trying it for a couple of states seems to be logical," Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, told reporters.
Republicans are relishing the debate from the sidelines, figuring a debate over government-run care will divide their rivals and be a liability next year for Senate Democrats facing reelection in states that Mr. Trump won by wide margins.
They say single-payer will inevitably lead to rationing of health care, while requiring onerous tax increases to pay for the program's hefty price tag of up to $32 trillion over a decade.
"This idea is good for whipping up the far-left base and bad for everyone else," Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said in an op-ed for Fox News. "It will deliver worse care, inevitably leading to rationing. It also will be outrageously expensive for everyone."
A crop of Senate Republicans are plotting a last-ditch push to repeal Obamacare with a bill that would effectively let states take a batch of health care money and run with it.
They say the plan offers the GOP its best chance to beat a Sept. 30 deadline for getting something done on under the 2017 budget, which helps the GOP avoid a Democratic filibuster.
Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin will formally unveil the bill Wednesday, though it faces incredibly long odds, in part because GOP leadership hasn't shown much interest in it.
Republicans have largely pivoted to tax reform after the embarrassing defeat of their repeal efforts in late July.