H. Harrison Coleman IV
In New York, Democrats are poised to make gains in the state General Assembly and seem ready to gain a supermajority in both houses for the first time in modern history.
This would ordinarily be unremarkable if not for one revolutionary piece of legislation that has made itself a centerpiece of the Empire State’s political scene: the New York Health Act (NYHA). The NYHA is a bill that would grant universal healthcare to all New Yorkers. This plan is reminiscent of Bernie Sanders’s Medicare For All plan but is applied at a state level instead of a national one.
The NYHA would be paid for by scrapping the current government health subsidies system and replacing it with a single, streamlined system of universal healthcare. Advocates of the bill have argued that the Health Act would save the state $4 billion per year and would save 90% of New Yorkers money by eliminating the healthcare bureaucracy as well as eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
The NYHA has made the rounds through the State Assembly since 1992 but has never reached the governor’s desk. The bill’s sponsors—almost all Democrats—have pushed it through the State House several times but have come up short in the State Senate—last year, they were short by only one co-sponsor there.
The Democratic Party is usually split between two camps—the old-guard centrists, who aim to keep a moderately liberal agenda, and the younger, more radical progressives, who fight for leftist and socialist policies. This is not the case in New York as of recent, with the progressives winning decisively in the state. From people such as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), to the many members of the New York legislature, New York has established itself as a bastion of progressivism.
The leftward radicalization of New York has been so profound that centrist Democrats from the state, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have been forced to the left to stave off primary opponents.
This is in no small part due to the not insignificant and oft-felt presence of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a socialist group that represents and advances the cause of leftism. The DSA has experienced huge growth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump presidency. Though they have many chapters all across the country, the DSA’s presence is felt most heavily in New York and Brooklyn, in particular.
The DSA has made a system of universal healthcare one of its core goals, and they have seen the NYHA as a worthy endeavor. In 2020 alone, five DSA members were sent to the New York legislature. They attribute their electoral successes to their robust systems of organizing and volunteering, having gained significant victories all across the country. All the DSA members elected to the Empire State’s legislature have pledged to support and advance the NYHA in the future.
This is not to write off the efforts of the state Democratic Party. As the DSA makes gains in the urban areas, the New York Democratic Party has proved itself to be an absolute juggernaut. It has flipped many upstate Senate districts that, at the same time, voted for Donald Trump. Even though many of these new additions to the State Senate are centrist Democrats, the NYHA looks to be in its best position in the legislature yet.
Having passed the State House several times, the Health Act faces no real opposition there. Democrats have had a two-thirds supermajority there for a while, leaving that particular arena safe for the NYHA.
In fact, it’s not entirely true to say that the Democrats alone control the State House, as they have formed a governing coalition with other smaller parties, such as the socialist Working Families Party and the one remaining member of Ross Perot’s Independence Party to still hold any state office. This coalition has effectively sidelined any remaining Republicans in the State House.
However, the State Senate has long been a different story entirely. Until 2018, the Republican party held a slim majority in the Senate. But that year, in the midterm elections, the Democratic Party won back control of the Senate for the first time since 1964. As of now, the Democratic lead has expanded to such a degree that after the 2020 election, they now control a two-thirds supermajority of the upper house, pulling the state even further to the left.
The NYHA faces a new landscape entirely after the 2020 elections. Many old-guard Democrats have been primaried or voted out thanks to organizers like the DSA, and their younger, more ambitious successors have the Health Act at the forefront of their agenda.
The Health Act faces one more potential hurdle: Governor Andrew Cuomo (D). The governor has been accused by many New Yorkers of being a faux progressive or even a centrist. Governor Cuomo, who has gained national attention as a result of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, has established himself as a fiscal conservative and has been accused of being an ally of the wealthy. It seems unlikely that he might sign the NYHA.
Therein lies the interesting part of having a supermajority: the legislature can override the governor’s veto if 2/3rds of both the state House and Senate choose to do so. This is why having a supermajority has been the left’s goal, as opposed to a normal majority. Advancing the NYHA is not the only benefit of having a supermajority in the Senate. Now, Democrats have full control of the congressional redistricting in New York and can effectively bypass Governor Cuomo on anything they might disagree with him on.
Alternatively, if Governor Cuomo rejects the bill, it can be sent to the voters through a ballot measure, where voters can vote on the matter directly. A similar story happened in 2016, where Colorado voters rejected a universal healthcare system. Despite its failure in Colorado, universal healthcare is popular nationwide.
One state out of 50 having a universal healthcare system seems like small beans at first glance, but that's not necessarily the case. Canada got its famous “free healthcare” in a similar way that many on the left see happening: the province of Saskatchewan instituted its own universal healthcare system, and its success pushed Canada to institute a federal version of Saskatchewan’s policy.
As we look to a new year, New York, and the United States as a whole, march on to a brave old world, with a new president, new Congress, and a new worldview. Only time will tell if the New York Health Act passes, but whatever the case may be, all things change.