By Alana Wise
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A trade deal fight led by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday failed to fully materialize as rival and presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton announced a compromise to expand mandatory healthcare funding over the next decade.
At a meeting of the Democratic Party draft platform committee in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, supporters of Sanders were unable to influence the committee to adopt strong language opposing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, marking a powerful blow to the efforts by the U.S. senator from Vermont to push the party further to the left.
“We did everything we could to win that vote,” said Sanders policy adviser Warren Gunnels. “It was very disappointing.”
Instead of a condemnation specific to the TPP, the committee reached language saying they would oppose “trade agreements that do not support good American jobs.”
Sanders has headed the effort on the U.S. left to oppose the TPP and trade deals like it, which he says are unfair to American workers. Clinton has also come out as opposed to the agreement.
Despite Clinton having already secured the requisite delegates to clinch the party’s nomination at the July 25-28 convention, Sanders remains in the race to be the party’s nominee.
He has indicated that he would hold off on endorsing Clinton for the Nov. 8 general election fight against Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump until she adopted policies and campaign language that more closely resembled his own more liberal tone.
“I would like to say that while this vote was disappointing, we have won some tremendous victories,” Gunnels said, including securing language in the draft supporting a federal $15 minimum wage, another trademark issue for Sanders.
On the same day, the Clinton campaign announced changes to its healthcare policy proposal, including increasing mandatory healthcare funding under the Affordable Care Act by $40 billion over the next 10 years, highlighting the significant influence Sanders still yields over the party.
“We have more work to do to finish our long fight to provide universal, quality, affordable healthcare to everyone in America,” Clinton said in a statement that included her intention to give Americans the choice of a public-option insurance plan and allow for individuals below Medicare age, beginning at 55, to opt in to the U.S. federal program that pays elderly Americans’ hospital bills.
Sanders has made combating healthcare costs a rallying cry of his campaign and often battled with Clinton during the primary race on how best to reach their shared goal of universal healthcare.
On Saturday, Sanders praised the updates to Clinton’s proposal as a step in the right direction to “save lives and ease suffering,” indicating, along with the more liberal tone in several parts of the 2016 platform draft, a growing compromise between the two camps.
For Clinton, an endorsement from Sanders – seen as a champion of the progressive left – could open the door to many of his supporters who have been reluctant to support the more moderate Clinton.
“The proposal brought forth today by Secretary Clinton, working with our campaign, is an important step forward in expanding healthcare in America – and expanding health insurance and healthcare access to tens of millions of Americans,” he said in a statement.
“I congratulate Secretary Clinton for this extremely important initiative.”
The New York Times reported on Thursday that an endorsement is imminent, and Sanders is expected to officially throw his support behind Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, at a campaign stop in New Hampshire early next week.
(This story corrects age at which individuals could opt in to Medicare under Clinton plan in paragraph 10)
(Reporting by Alana Wise; editing by Leslie Adler, G Crosse)