Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

6 Lawmakers Who Are Defying The Party Line on Health Care

Created: 27 September, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
5 min read

Is anything less immutable these days than a political party’s orthodoxy? We all like to mourn the death of compromise, but the truth is this: even the Republican and Democratic parties aren’t that far apart once everybody’s working from the same set of facts.

One way or another, the following six political leaders broke with their party’s orthodoxy. Some wish to pursue real and lasting change in health care, while others were perhaps a little more cynical about their motivations. Whatever the case, health care is here to stay as a household issue in the United States.

If you don’t see your lawmaker's name on this list, ask yourself: do they support policies that would expand health care to more human beings — or do they wish to do the opposite? Anything beyond this central question is digital chatter meant to confuse the issue.

US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard demonstrated true grit when she departed her position within DNC leadership to lend her support to the Bernie Sanders campaign. It was no secret then or now that Democratic leadership thought little of the Sanders "insurgency," and his campaign to not so much win an election as push the DNC further toward the left end of the political spectrum and, in turn, real progressive change.


We know how the election went, but like Senator Warren, Rep. Gabbard is now making up for lost time. She has joined the ever-growing list of Democratic leaders who wish to expand Medicare into a program which provides health care to all Americans.


The Republican establishment has long taken McCain — a self-styled "maverick" — and his party loyalty for granted, but the Arizona senator has bucked the party establishment in recent weeks following surgery for brain cancer. McCain says doctors gave him a "very poor prognosis," raising the question of how long "the Maverick" could remain in the US Senate.

He dealt a deadly blow to a previous Obamacare repeal effort and in late September once again signaled his distaste for legislation that would strip health care from millions and render it unaffordable for many others.

Consistently ranked among the more conservative Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen has nevertheless signed on to Sanders’ single-payer legislation. She’s not hopeful it will see the light of day so long as Republicans control the entire federal government, but she does see her support as a public way to push lawmakers of all stripes to, as she puts it, "think big" about American health care.



Susan Collins, a senator from the state of Maine, joined John McCain in helping to kill Cassidy-Graham: the latest GOP effort to repeal Obamacare. But the road she took to get there is disastrously embarrassing for a party whose credibility is already at an all-time low.

Laying bear the depths of modern Republican cynicism, GOP leaders attempted to bribe Susan Collins into supporting Cassidy-Graham — an undoing of the Affordable Care Act on the national level — by promising Maine it could keep the parts of the ACA that are already delivering results.

The hypocrisy is stunning, but in this climate, not at all surprising.

Collins listed 3 specific reasons for rejecting the latest effort to repeal Obamacare. Her biggest issue is the impact the latest efforts by her party at health care reform would have on Medicaid and the people on it.


Senator Rand Paul has also been a huge critic of his party’s approach to health care and has even offered his own plan. The Kentucky Republican disagrees with the GOP bill aimed at repealing Obamacare, and his opposition, along with that of Collins and McCain, poses a huge blockade to the bill’s success. Republicans have even gone as far as revising their bill in hopes of winning over the votes needed for it to pass.

Paul demands a major decrease in the law’s $1 trillion in spending, removal of coverage requirements and the formation of broad health plans for consumers to choose. He has expressed being unwilling to budge on those points. Many believe that Paul’s points are worthy of consideration and could even change U.S. health care for the better.


During the 2016 election season, Hillary Clinton was, to put it mildly, not enthusiastic about pursuing single-payer health care in America. "Never, ever" was her precise phrasing. It was already a central plank in Bernie Sanders’ policy agenda, but after the election it rose again as a kind of litmus test for the post-Trump Democratic Party.

Senator Elizabeth Warren took a long time deciding whether to hand her endorsement to Clinton or Sanders, but once she did, she closed the door — temporarily, at least — on the hope of revolutionary change which has so ignited liberals and progressives.

With the dust settling and America standing ready to become something great or awful, Warren has committed herself anew to progressivism. Sanders is continuing his crusade for single-payer in the Senate, and as of this writing, his formal legislation to pursue Medicare-for-all enjoys the support of about one-third of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

It’s times like these we’re reminded that America’s political parties are abstract constructs which rarely line up cleanly with "traditional" right and wrong. There’s a consensus emerging: it says nobody deserves to live without necessary medical attention and nobody should have to declare bankruptcy to pay for it. It can’t possibly be a partisan issue — it’s a human issue. Most Americans agree.

Let’s speak plainly: if both parties purport to be defenders of American life, anybody not pursuing a radical and socially-conscious overhaul of our health care system is a traitor to their party.