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Health Care: Public Option Update

Several people asked me for an update to my earlier post about what you can do if you want a public health insurance option passed. Sorry I've been slow. Now's the time to call, so read this today if you want to help.

Where We Are Now


Everything I wrote then remains true. Here's what has changed:
  1. I said the Senate Finance Committee would come up with a terrible proposal. Indeed, the Baucus-Grassley proposal was completed, and it is irredeemably awful.

  2. I said that the public option probably had the support of a majority of the House and Senate. Now we know that to be true; it has been independently verified by Democracy for America.

  3. I said that the media was misleading you by focusing on the Senate Finance Committee, since other committees were done and Finance was the only one where there was still some action. That's even more true in the past few weeks, and the press has made it seem as if the fate of reform lies in what amendments pass or fail in the Finance Committee. That's still false; the fate of reform lies in whether or not we prevent the Finance Committee's idiocy from becoming law.
  4. I said that our best strategy for good health reform legislation with a strong public option is to defeat the Baucus-Grassley proposal in committee, so that Finance passes no bill at all. That vote may happen this week.

If you want it, more detail about points #1 and #2 below:
#1 - the Awful Bacus-Grassley proposal

You've heard about how the provision to provide coverage for end of life counseling and living wills, and measure their use, got twisted into ridiculous claims of "death panels"? Well, Baucus & Grassley decided to deal with that by: Removing coverage for end of life counseling and living wills.

Remember Joe Wilson's famous "you lie!" when Obama refuted right-wing claims that this reform would provide subsidies to cover immigrants who are here illegally? Well, Baucus & Grassley decided to pre-empt such criticisms by placing extra restrictions on legal permanent residents' access to the health care reforms!

You get the idea? Because I could go on. Like the provision that penalizes employers for hiring low income people. But then this post would get too long.

Supposedly, the point of all this was to get a "bipartisan" bill, but as the NY Times blogged,
    Most Republicans have been deeply unhappy with the Democratic health care proposals so far, and Republicans on the Finance Committee were said to be bracing for two possibilities: a partisan proposal that they were going to oppose, or a bipartisan proposal that they were going to oppose.

As far as I know, the only real endorsement of the Baucus-Grassley proposal from other Senators was this statement from four of them, including exactly one Republican (Olympia Snowe of Maine). Even Grassley hasn't said he'd vote for it. But hey, Joe Lieberman likes it. I probably could've skipped this whole mini-rant about how awful this proposal is, and just told you that, right? :)

#2 - Majority Support

Former Democratic Party chair Howard Dean's Democracy for America has been collecting signatures from members of Congress who say they will vote yes on reform legislation with a public option, if it comes to a vote. As of sometime in mid-September, their tally reached >50% of both the House and Senate. Now, not all of these Senators and Reps are committed to a public option, and many of them may be okay with passing a bill without one, but all of them favor it and will vote yes if they get a chance to vote yes on it. We still have to work to get it before them, but we know it can pass.

Further, as of last week, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said that "We are going to have a public option before this bill goes to the president's desk," which shows either that Obama has convinced him, or he realized the House wouldn't back down and wants to avoid that fight, or both.

What You Can Do


Briefly: Call Democrats on the Finance Committee and ask them to vote NO in committee on the Baucus-Grassley proposal (officially "America's Healthy Future Act").

Last time, I asked you to call and thank those Representatives who had signed a letter saying they would vote against final legislation without a public option. They stiffened the House's backbone, vs. the Senate, on this.

Now, the Senate is where we can make a difference: If we can prevent Finance from passing its awful bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will run out of time to wait for them, and will bring the much much better HELP Committee bill (with a public option) to the Senate Floor as the base legislation. If we can manage that, we head off that fight between the House and Senate, and nearly ensure a better bill becomes law. If we can't manage it, then things get harder; our odds for getting a public option would still be better than 50%, but they'd be lower, and all sorts of other bad stuff from the Finance Committee might make it into law too.

Finance has 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. We can expect Republicans to vote no, but there's a risk that Olympia Snowe will vote yes. So, to be relatively safe, I think we need 4 Democrats to vote no. If Grassley and Enzi vote yes, we'll need 6 Democratic no votes, but if the proposal turns out to be so horrible that even Grassley and Enzi would vote for it, we shouldn't have much trouble getting some extra Democrats to oppose it.

Chuck Schumer (D-NY) submitted an amendment in committee to add a public option to the Baucus-Grassley bill. It failed, but 10 of the committee's 13 Democrats voted for it. Can we find 4 from among those 10, who will vote no on the whole bill?

Here's a list of Finance Committee members. Do you live in one of their states? Call! Tell your Senator's office that you think the Baucus-Grassley proposal is terrible and cannot be salvaged, and ask them if they'll commit to voting "no" on it in committee, so that the much better HELP bill can become the Senate's base bill.

Here are the ten who voted for Schumer's public option amendment:
  • Massachusetts: John Kerry - 202-224-2742

  • New York: Chuck Schumer - 202-224-6542

  • New Jersey: Robert Menendez - 202-224-4744

  • Delaware: Tom Carper - 202-224-2441

  • Michigan: Debbie Stabenow - 202-224-4822

  • West Virginia: John D Rockefeller - 202-224-6472

  • New Mexico: Jeff Bingaman - 202-224-5521

  • Florida: Bill Nelson - 202-224-5274

  • Washington: Maria Cantwell - 202-224-3441

  • Oregon: Ron Wyden - 202-224-5244
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