The Slatest

New Wave of Democrats Realizes You Can Get Things Just by Asking for Them

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and Don Emmert /AFP/Getty Images.

News broke on Thursday that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will support Democrat-led hearings for so-called Medicare for all legislation. It’s a big win for the increasingly assertive progressives in the Democratic Party; while a universal-Medicare bill was first introduced in 2003, the concept really took off in popularity when Bernie Sanders endorsed it during his 2016 presidential campaign. Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who co-founded the House Medicare for All Caucus in July, told the Washington Post that she expects specific legislation for review will be finished in “the next couple of weeks.” (While Medicare for all is a fungible concept, it appears that what Jayapal is discussing will be a full-on Canada-style single-payer plan. Hoard your Canadian-border elective surgery appointments while you still can!)

Elsewhere in D.C. this week, the ambitious “Green New Deal” goals championed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC” to her fans and haters) were endorsed by all-but-formally-announced presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; they’ve also been talked up by senators and maybe-probably candidates Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker. While Ocasio-Cortez’s push for an explicitly labeled Green New Deal House select committee was stymied by more senior Democrats (haters!), Dems will still be relaunching a select committee on climate change, which will now be operating under heightened expectations and scrutiny.

What “Medicare for all” and “the Green New Deal” have in common, apart from the support of high-profile legislators who operate outside the formal Democratic congressional leadership structure, is that they are phrases that would’ve been familiar to few, if any, voters before Sanders began his long-shot run for president. Now, after a relatively short period in which the fundamental conditions of the American environment and health care system changed very little—but in which Sanders and similarly motivated lefty upstarts brought up their big ideas over and over—both concepts poll quite well and have a good chance of being endorsed (in some form) by the next Democratic presidential nominee.

As I’ve written before at tedious length, senior Democrats like Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (not to mention Hillary Clinton) seem to operate under the assumption that the Democratic Party should play a fundamentally defensive game—that, while it should have a certain set of steadfast principles about the social safety net and environmental protection and such, its primary role is to contain Republican aggression, manage corporate interests, and win over skeptical swing voters.* Sanders, Jayapal, Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, and others clearly have a different approach—and whatever you think of the merits of their policy proposals, at the moment their go-big-or-go-home strategy instincts appear to be winning the day.

Correction, Jan. 3, 2019: This piece originally referred to Chuck Schumer as the Senate majority leader.