Sanders and Jayapal say expanding Medicare benefits ‘not negotiable’

Democrats are facing difficult decisions on what to include in the reconciliation infrastructure package, and powerful interests are drawing lines in the sand.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that adding dental, hearing and vision benefits to Medicare in Democrats’ social spending package — an issue championed by progressives — is “not negotiable.”

“This to me is not negotiable,” Sanders said on a call with reporters. “This is what the American people want.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added that Sanders’s view is also “the position of the House Progressive Caucus,” adding further heft to the position.

Progressives have long been pushing for expanding the Medicare benefits in President Biden‘s Build Back Better package, but the new comments illustrate how key the issue is for them.

But life is complicated: Democrats are fighting amongst themselves about fitting key priorities into an ever-shrinking spending target, and many other health care priorities have powerful backers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, is a major proponent of extending enhanced financial assistance to help people afford premiums under the Affordable Care Act. And House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is pushing hard for a provision to expand Medicaid in the 12 GOP-led states that have so far rejected the expansion.