Early in his campaign Mayor Pete went to great lengths to paint himself an advocate of Medicare for All. Going as far as calling Medicare for All a moderate position, in between totally private healthcare like the bulk of the system in the United States, and a totally state run healthcare system like the NHS in the U.K. Pete also rightfully declared the Affordable Care Act a conservative solution to American’s healthcare woes.
In Buttigieg’s eyes Medicare for All sat right in the middle, a compromise position if you will. To Buttigieg Medicare for All was the best of both worlds, privately run hospitals and state run insurance, a perfect balance. And this was the tact the Pete campaign took for much of the early days of the primary. Which made sense given healthcare is the number one issue for Democratic Primary voters, and Medicare for All is seen as a widely popular solution to that issue.
However, Pete’s “Medicare for All is the center” position was quickly replaced. For a far more cynical healthcare move, dubbed “Medicare for All Who Want It.” Medicare for All Who Want It is almost just as conservative a solution as the Affordable Care Act which Pete lambasted for being conservative just a few months ago. It’s an attempt to shift the healthcare debate back to the right, and force Americans to settle for a public option when many appear to support a total abolition of private health insurance.
The shift in his rhetoric comes at a suspicious time as well, one where the Democratic donor class was sent scrambling to find a moderate candidate who wasn’t Joe Biden and could make it through the primary. So Mayor Pete tailored his campaign to their big money needs, giving him the perfect in to raise massive amounts of campaign cash for the low, low cost of changing his campaign branding. From one of Medicare for All as a moderate solution, to one just to the left of the Affordable Care Act which he previously dubbed a conservative solution to American healthcare. And this was a change Pete was more than willing to make.
According to financial disclosures Mayor Pete took more campaign cash from insurance company executives than any other candidate in the race, minus Biden. Something that is difficult to separate from his massive about face on the healthcare issue. In fact, Pete went from a supporter of Medicare for All, to decrying the policy and those who support it in a matter of months. And it’s hard to separate this change from the cash coming in from executives from Aetna, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, among others.
In the months following Pete Buttigieg’s big campaign cash haul, his rhetoric changes sharply. Going from a supporter of “the moderate position” to a skeptic looking to reign in what he sees as the excessive promises of Medicare for All supporters like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In Pete’s words, “anyone who lets the words Medicare for All escape their lips should tell us just as plainly how they plan to get there.” Going a step further to specifically target Elizabeth Warren as well, “Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question, and we’ve seen that repeatedly.”
These sorts of critiques were a preview for the attacks he’d levy on the debate stage, again going after Elizabeth Warren in particular for failing to put fort funding for her Medicare for All plan. “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 be filled in.”
The rhetoric has surely changed, and the cash from pharmaceutical continued as Mayor Pete took part in two massive fundraisers put on by lobbyists for pharmaceutical giant Merck in October. Politicians love to claim the money they take from big donors doesn’t impact their policy positions, but the sheer amount of money Mayor Pete is pulling in is one of the few reasons he is able to remain a viable and competitive candidate. It’s also directly linked to interests who oppose Medicare for All, and the money didn’t flow until he changed his position significantly. Medicare for All as the center became Medicare for All is too expensive and unworkable. The politics of Medicare for All didn’t change, neither did the public support, the only thing that changed was the piles of cash Mayor Pete received to compensate the changed position. And that should alarm everybody.