Single payer activist Dr. Margaret Flowers is running as a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland.
The seat has been held since 1986 by Democrat Barbara Mikulski.
Milkulski is not seeking re-election.
The two leading Democrats in the race are Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
“We have to build an alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties,” Flowers said. “They are corrupted by money and dominated by corporate interests. I’m running to build an alternative outside of the corporate parties that puts people before corporate profits.”
“Donna Edwards ran on a progressive platform and she has not delivered,” Flowers said. “She has not shown that she is willing to stand up to the moneyed interests in the Democratic Party and fight for the interests of people.”
“In her email blasts that she sends out, it’s all about her personality and not about the issues,” Flowers said. “It’s — let’s put a woman in this position.”
“Van Hollen is the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and very much tied into Wall Street,” Flowers said.
When asked why she would run against relatively progressive Democratic members of Congress, Flowers says that “it’s about how the Democratic Party controls its members.”
“When they have something politically toxic like fast track, they pass with the exact number of votes they need, and that allows some members of Congress to be able to take a position that looks good — like Donna Edwards coming out against fast track and the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP).”
“I don’t know if she is doing that because she is against it, or because she knew she would be running for Senate and didn’t want to have that on her record.”
“I’m not going to be beholden to either corporate party and I will not make my decision based on whether I’m running for office again. I’ll make my decision based on meeting the needs of the majority of people. I’ll be in there fighting based on those principles — not based on my political career.”
Edwards is one of 53 members of the House of Representatives who is a co-sponsor of HR 676 — the single payer bill in the House. Van Hollen is not a co-sponsor.
“When Donna initially ran for Congress, she ran on a platform of supporting single payer,” Flowers said. “But then when 2009 and 2010 came around, she wasn’t talking about single payer. I went to her town hall meetings. I sat next to her at one of them. And I asked her — why aren’t you talking about single payer? And she wouldn’t respond. And she got up and gave all of the talking points that the Democrats were giving to support the ACA (Affordable Care Act).”
“That was extremely disappointing. I had a run-in with her toward the end of that whole process — before the final vote,” Flowers said. “This was before Dennis Kucinich had yet to come out in support of ACA. We were looking for a small group of Democrats who would have the courage to stand together and say — this is the wrong solution. The ACA was a complete bailout for the private insurance industry. I had a run-in with her and I asked her if she would stand up with a few other members of the Progressive Caucus. And she wouldn’t and she got pretty angry with me for just asking the question.”
Bernie Sanders is the only Senator who has introduced single payer legislation in the Senate.
Flowers says she is glad to see that Sanders is speaking out for single payer.
But she says it would have been better had Sanders introduced a Senate version of HR 676.
Instead, he introduced his own bill — a state-based system that doesn’t cover everyone in the country and that protects for-profit hospitals and other institutions.
“You can’t have a real health system that improves health outcomes unless you include everybody who is living in the country,” Flowers says. “Infectious diseases don’t know any boundaries. You want people to seek care when they need it so we can prevent infectious epidemics. The Sanders legislation allows the states to determine who qualifies.”
“The other problem with the Sanders legislation is that research shows pretty clearly that for-profit health providers cost more money and have worse outcomes. HR 676 would buy out those for-profit institutions and the Sanders legislation allows those to continue.”
Why did Sanders go his own way? Why didn’t he just introduce the equivalent of HR 676 in the Senate?
“I can only speculate,” Flowers said. “I know that Sanders is pretty close to many unions. He gets a lot of his funding from unions. I would have to get you a document that I saw a number of years ago. It shows that National Nurses United (NNU) and SEIU made some sort of a deal where NNU would support legislation that would allow for-profit institutions to continue and in return, SEIU would allow NNU to organize certain populations of healthcare employees. I can find that for you. But again, that’s speculation. I don’t know why Sanders didn’t introduce the equivalent of HR 676 in the Senate.”
Don’t you like Sanders run for the presidency and don’t you hope he wins the nomination?
“No I don’t,” Flowers says. “I like some of what he is saying. I have disagreements with him on his foreign policy. It’s a double edged sword. It’s great that he is saying these things about wealth inequality, which he has always said, reaching an audience that hasn’t been reached yet.”
“But we’ve seen this before — where insurgent Democrats speak to the issues of the time in order to keep people within the corrupt Democratic Party. Those people are ready to leave to go to an alternative party, but they hear this great rhetoric coming from the Democrats and they think — oh, they can be reformed, they can be changed. And then in the end, when Sanders loses the nomination, he’ll endorse Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton and that energy will be funnelled back into the Democratic Party. It maintains the status quo.”
What if Sanders wins the nomination?
“That would be interesting. But I don’t think that is really possible in the current way that the Democratic Party is structured with the super delegates and the number of primaries they have early in the year next year.”
“But if he wins, he still has serious problems on foreign policy. He’s a strong supporter of Israel. He will continue to be aggressive toward Russia, which is not the right solution. He supports the building of the F-35, which is built in Vermont. Even the Pentagon says they don’t need it anymore, it wasn’t worth building and Congress funded it anyway. He looks toward military solutions. We need to shrink our empire, be a bit more diplomatic, rather than being so aggressive in our foreign policy. I don’t have faith that he would do that. That’s where I differ with him on foreign policy.”
“If Sanders were to be President, he may do some things that are better than other Democrats like Obama, but I don’t know that we would have the fundamental shift in our government that we need to meet people’s needs.”
Where is the single payer movement heading?
“Things are starting to change,” Flowers says. “There was an initial deflation after the ACA passed. There was so much propaganda. The Democrats were saying — we did it, we passed healthcare reform and now our problems are solved. That created conflict within the single payer movement. You had people who saw that more people had insurance and they didn’t want to be seen as going against that.”
“Now that we are this far out and the exchanges have been up and running, people are seeing that the premiums continue to rise. I had an accountant tell me that 100 percent of her clients had to pay back all or part of their subsidies.”
“The coverage is still very shoddy, with high deductibles and narrow networks. It’s still makes it difficult for patients to get the care and medications they need. You are starting to see the single payer movement trying to ramp up again. There has been really good work done to build a strong medical student corps. We now have hundreds of medical students holding their own conferences. They are doing national days of action — one is being held today.”
“It’s starting to surface again. And it’s going to be part of the broader struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. We need a strong leader — which is something we lacked in Congressman John Conyers in 2009 and 2010. We needed someone out there saying — let’s do this, let’s get this through. Someone who would fight for it.”
Conyers was not a strong leader?
“He was conflicted,” Flowers said. “He liked Obama. He was excited to have an African American President. He was being pressured to toe the line with the rest of the Democrats and not go against the President. He would speak about single payer in public, but he was not willing to fight for it inside of Congress and make it part of the agenda.”