Tammy Baldwin And Universal Health Care: A Brief History

By Jerry Bader and Sam Morateck

It comes as no surprise that MoveOn.org  last week included Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin in a group of Senators it is endorsing. Baldwin’s name appears along with far left Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. MoveOn.org applauds Baldwin for championing …”progressive issues such as universal health care…”  But Baldwin has shown that her embrace of UHC can be situational.

Baldwin was indeed a champion of UHC during her years in the House of Representatives. But she became much more coy about her position on the issue when running for the senate against Republican Tommy Thompson in 2012. Thompson ran on a promise to help repeal Obamacare and attempted to use Baldwin’s support for UHC to paint her as extreme on the health care issue. As Politifact reported back then, that caused Baldwin to demur when pressed on her support for UHC:

In the space of two days in the waning weeks of the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Tammy Baldwin declared her position on getting a single-payer healthcare system “moot,” “irrelevant” and “hypothetical.”


Instead, she said, Congress should focus now on putting into place the Affordable Care Act, the sweeping healthcare law approved by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.


Republicans, including Senate campaign rival Tommy Thompson, pounced on Baldwin’s remarks, with Thompson’s camp saying that Baldwin was “trying to walk back her 14-year support for a single-payer health care system.”

While she voted for Obamacare, she later said she was actually “for a government takeover of medicine.”

Yet, when pressed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in the waning days of the 2012 Senate race Baldwin would not enthusiastically support UHC or a “single-payer system.” In fact, she wouldn’t say she supported the concept, at all.

Asked by a Journal Sentinel editorial writer Oct. 24, 2012, whether she still supports moving to single-payer system, Baldwin responded that it’s a “moot question.”


She said: “It took 70 years for America to have a federal health policy. I certainly do not see that debate coming up. So it’s a hypothetical question.”


The next day, asked if she still supports single payer, she told reporters at an endorsement news conference that if elected, she would focus on implementing “Obamacare,” — rather than advocating for having the government go even further as she has in the past. She called her position on single payer “irrelevant.”

Politifact declared Baldwin’s hedging on the issue a “half-flip.”  The Republican wave in the 2010 mid-terms was seen largely as a product of Obamacare backlash. It’s likely Baldwin felt that two years later her previous full-throat support for UHC would have been a liability.

Despite promising for years to repeal Obamacare, Republicans have failed to do so since the 2016 elections. If that failure stands into 2018 it will mean health care will be a top issue in Baldwin’s re-election bid. As she attempts to tag her Republican opponent with that failure it will be interesting to see whether she embraces UHC or again attempts to hide her support for it if she considers it problematic. And what will MoveOn.org and other liberal groups do if she does?