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Healthcare Betrayal by New York State Senate Democrats, Particularly on Long Island


For years, Democrats in Albany were able to blame their failures on the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of renegade Democrats that caucused with Republicans and prevented progressive legislation from coming up for a vote. It was widely speculated Governor Andrew Cuomo was complicit in the creation of the IDC as a way of blocking progressive legislation that he did not support but did not want to have to veto, which would have caused backlash among the grassroots. In the wake of Trump’s election, there was a huge grassroots effort to defeat the IDC and the Democratic Party power brokers finally joined that effort to appease the grassroots. In the 2018 campaigns that followed, the new wave of Democrats promised a new style of doing business, in which a IDC-less Albany would usher in a new era of progressive policies. Many New York Senate candidates ran for office pledging to support transformative policies. A sweeping blue wave carried them to victory, giving the Democrats control of both houses of the New York legislature and the Governorship.

Now, after passing a handful of liberal social policies and democratic reforms, there are troubling signs that the Democrats in Albany are once again up to their old tricks. Nowhere is this more evident than in their betrayal on the New York Health Act. This bill, which would create a single payer healthcare system in New York, has been a top priority for the progressive grassroots for years. Under this plan, every single New York resident would receive comprehensive healthcare coverage without paying premiums, copays, and deductibles. The tax that would be levied to pay for the program would be graduated, meaning that the percentage paid would increase as ones income increased. The bottom 97% of New Yorkers would pay less than they currently pay for healthcare.

Many candidates ran on their support for this bill and received a lot of assistance from grassroots organizers as a result. That is why it came as quite a surprise to many when the bill was submitted and many names were missing, including several that pledged to support it during the campaign and several that had cosponsored the bill in years past. According to City & State, “So far this year, only 26 out of 39 members of the Senate Democratic conference have signed on to the bill, compared to the full conference last year when they were in the minority. While the Assembly has passed the bill the past four years, there is no guarantee that it will pass again this time around with Democrats in control of the Senate.”

Among the former cosponsors that decided not to add their name this year are Andrea Stewart- Cousins (the Democratic leader in the Senate), Diane Savino, Tim Kennedy, and two Long Island based Senators, John Brooks and Todd Kaminsky. Three other Long Island Democratic Senators also withheld their names: Monica Martinez, Jim Gaughran, and Anna Kaplan. Gaughran and Kaplan claimed to support the bill during their elections. Suddenly, now that there is a real chance that this bill can be passed, these fair-weather Democrats are nowhere to be found. There was another first term Long Island-based Senator, Kevin Thomas, that had failed to cosponsor the bill at first, but has now done so.

Now the bill is on the back burner as state budget talks dominate the discussion in Albany, making it unlikely that the bill will be brought up for a vote this year. These shenanigans have led some to suspect that a new, less explicit, IDC-type situation is developing. Unlike the previous IDC, this new agreement would allow some liberal social policies to be passed to appease voters, while progressive policies that threaten the wealthy of the top 1% and the donors will always fall just short of passing. This strategy is not unprecedented in the Democratic Party. In California, the Democratically controlled legislature routinely passed single payer legislation while Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in place to veto it. Once a Democrat won the Governorship in California, however, the Democratic supermajority simply stopped bringing it up for a vote. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, has also written about this Democratic Party strategy at the national level.

Now, the grassroots activists that spent so much time electing these politicians need to spend even more time trying to convince them to follow through with their campaign promises. This kind of behavior, over a period of many decades, is a big part of why so many voters just stay home on election day. With good reason, they have developed a total lack of faith in the system and those who run it, as promises made during a campaign fade away once elected. In a 2014 poll, 75% of Americans said that politicians are all corrupt. These kinds of actions explain why so many Americans feel this way. When the Democratic Party ponders how it is possible that Donald Trump, a bigoted cartoon character, was able to defeat the Clinton Machine in 2016, they need look no further than their own actions, which often throw their voters under the bus.

The great progressive folk singer, Pete Seeger, sang a song which famously asked, “Which Side Are You On?,” asking if you would support the working people or the powerful corporations. That is the big question that must now be asked of the New York Democratic Party: are they with the working families struggling to pay their doctors’ bills, afford their prescriptions, and live a decent life or are their with the Health Insurance and Big Pharma companies that profit off of our illnesses and the top 3% who do not want to see their taxes go up.

While all of this is playing out, there are New York residents dying from a lack of healthcare (roughly 2,500 each year) and many more will go bankrupt due to medical expenses. The clock is ticking and New Yorkers are suffering. How long do New Yorkers have to wait for a party that will actually fight for them?

If you would like to see this bill passed, please contact these New York State Senators and tell them at https://www.nysenate.gov/senators-committees.

Full Disclosure: The author is a strong supporter of the New York Health Act and a local activist on Long Island, NY.

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