In a flurry of announcements last week, Democratic mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner both laid out far-reaching plans to expand health care in the nation’s largest city. De Blasio’s plan would build on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by using community based efforts to enroll up to 600,000 New Yorkers in health insurance programs covered under the ACA by 2018. Weiner’s plan goes even farther seeking to turn NYC into a “single-payer laboratory” for health care by creating a municipal Medicare-like program to cover all city employees, retirees and uninsured immigrants.
The details of these plans aren’t fully fleshed out yet, but they do highlight the increasingly important role states and municipalities are playing in advancing progressive politics at a time of complete dysfunction on Capitol Hill. Following the lead of Vermont, the only state in the nation to pass a single-payer system, Weiner’s plan for NYC could provide a powerful model for change that is entirely off the national radar. This is not surprising given New York’s central role in the development of progressive politics since the late 1890′s on everything from workplace regulation and labor rights to women’s suffrage and social insurance programs.
But it does remind us that our most progressive states — like New York, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont — provide successful models of social change that can serve as the basis for renewed progressivism at the national level. If the GOP wants to block all meaningful federal action on pressing social problems, progressives will just have to show Americans that Louis Brandeis’ famous state “laboratories” for democracy are ready and able to provide for the general welfare and common good of all.