Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley took a trip to Iowa that sparked more talk about his presidential ambitions, and while on the road announced that he will sponsor a "Medicare for All" bill drafted by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Merkley, a Democrat, endorsed Sanders' presidential candidacy last year and has worked with him on issues ranging from cannibus legalization to a proposed ban on fossil fuel development on public lands.
Sanders frequently talked during his campaign about extending government-paid health care for seniors to all age groups. That idea has won increasing traction among more liberal members of the Senate Democratic caucus, particularly among those eyeing possible presidential campaigns.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, often mentioned as a 2020 contender, also announced Monday that he would back the bill. Three other potential Democratic candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are also supporting the bill, according to news reports.
The idea of health care for all helped fuel Sanders' surprisingly strong presidential campaign. While the Vermont independent fell short of wresting the Democratic nomination from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders is positioning himself to run again in 2020.
Politically, the "Medicare for All" legislation gives Democrats a chance to present a strong contrast to President Donald Trump and other Republicans who spent much of the year trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“Health care should be a right for every single American," Merkley said in a statement, "not a privilege reserved for the healthy and the wealthy."
He went on to say that while access to health care has improved, "it would be terrific to have a simple, seamless system where, solely by virtue of living in America, you know that you will get the care you need."
Sanders says the bill he will release on Wednesday will provide a more detailed blueprint for his health care plans. Although the legislation faces no chance of passing in the Senate at this point, it's likely to get plenty of scrutiny.
One of the big sticking points of extending Medicare to the entire population is that it would require a major tax increase to pay for it. Both Vermont and California have backed away from single-payer plans because of the cost and other complications of implementing them.
Merkley talked about a wide range of issues during his speech Sunday at the Progress Corn Feed, an annual fundraiser held in Des Moines.
Merkley said last week that his purpose in going was to help rally progressive voters in advance of the 2018 election. He said he hasn't ruled in or out whether he would run for president in 2020.
While he was in Iowa on Sunday and Monday, the Des Moines Register reported that Merkley participated in several other events and said that "his itinerary is among the fullest yet seen by a senator, governor or any other Democrat with a potential presidential resume."
The newspaper reported that one union activist, postal worker Mark Sarcone said of Merkley: "I think he's a potential vice president. I don’t know about presidential, but he’s certainly vice presidential.”