So, this post is for those of you who want this public option to happen.
First: We're winning. We're ahead. Press coverage has been very misleading, for several reasons, including:
- Angry protesters at legislator's town hall meetings have some effect on the legislators, but have a lot more effect on news coverage, by far.
- Our mainstream press hasn't gotten used to the expanded power of the new progressive movement, because it's so new. That's why they were so shocked that Obama won the Democratic nomination, for example. In fact the press was so badly caught off guard by that that they didn't even report that Obama had basically won until about three months after everyone who was looking at the numbers already knew it. They just couldn't believe it. If we win on health care, much of the press won't believe it until after it has really happened.
- Three committees in the US House, and one committee in the Senate, have already completed health care legislation that includes a public option. Only one committee, the Senate Finance Committee, is still arguing out their version of health care reform, and they're the only ones working on a bill that doesn't have a public option. But because they're the only committee still actively working on it, they're getting all the press coverage.
Despite what it may seem from the news, a public option is >50% likely. On the other hand, it's not anywhere near 100% likely, so it can definitely use your help! And you can easily do some things that'll have a big effect on its chances.
If you're interested, here's what's happening in Congress, and why the actions I recommend below will matter. Or, you can skip the details, and just do them.
First, here are summaries of the four bills already out of committee:
- Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committee bill summary [PDF]
- House Ways and Means committee bill text, summaries, & other info
- House Education & Labor committee press release (link to summary near bottom)
- House Energy & Commerce committee press release and bill text, summaries, & other info
As you can see, all four of these include a public health plan. Obama wants a public plan. So why is it even in question?
What I'm summarizing here is based not just on following the issue via the next over the past couple of months, and email from various advocacy groups and progressive organizer discussion lists I'm on, but also on informal conversations with several members of Congress at Netroots Nation last weekend, and a chat with Darcy Burner who organizes the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
First, and most important:
1. Democrats feel that they must pass some big health reform legislation. Some Democrats may not feel that the public option is important, and some may even prefer it not be there, but they all believe that if they fail to pass the legislation altogether, it will bite them hard in the 2010 elections.
2. Republicans agree that if Congress doesn't pass comprehensive health care reform, Democrats will lose a lot of seats in the 2010 election, so Republicans are nearly united in opposing anything, whether it has a public option or not.
Therefore: This is going to be decided by Democrats. What Republicans do won't be key here.
In the Senate, when multiple committees committees are working on the same legislation, the version that comes out of the committee that got the bill referred to them first, becomes the "base bill". What other committees produce can be substituted for the base bill as amendments, but amendments can be easily blocked by 40 votes, so the base bill is at a big advantage when it comes to "must pass something" at the end. And in this case, the Senate Finance Committee gets to produce the base bill.
Finance Committee members have said that what they produce, once it passes the Senate, will be what becomes law; basically, they've declared the House irrelevant. They believe that they can reject all the House versions and the House will be forced to accept the "compromise" they produce after it passes the Senate.
House leadership want the public option. Speaker Nancy Pelosi strongly wants it. Majority leader Steny Hoyer probably doesn't care that much, and would be willing to pass health care reform without it. But Steny Hoyer *does* care a lot about the power of the House vis-a-vis the Senate, and will stand up for it. If it turns into a pissing match between the two houses, Hoyer's hackles will be raised very high, and he'll stand on principle for the House version. This is the most important legislation this Congress will pass, and if the Senate gets to make the House irrelevant on this, then there will be no reason for President Obama to really care what the House wants on any other legislation.
House has a weapon to use against the Senate: An organized (finally!) Progressive Caucus. 65 Representatives have signed a letter saying they will vote "No" on any health care reform legislation that does not include a strong public option. With all Republicans voting no, no such bill can pass without these Representatives, so they're using their power as a block to show that the House will not pass the Senate version if it's the Finance Committee "compromise". Pelosi and Hoyer can use this to show Reid that he needs to get something out of the Senate that has a public option, otherwise it won't pass the House - and Senate Democrats can't let no bill pass at all. Even those Senate Dems who prefer no public option, would much rather have a public option than a 2010-Dem-killing lack of health care reform.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is losing confidence in Max Baucus' Finance Committee. Dodd's HELP committee passed a good bill already, and Baucus' committee is still dickering and putting out all sorts of confusing and damaging statements and press coverage. Reid could try to say "enough is enough" and move the HELP committee bill to the floor as a base bill, rather than waiting for Finance to produce something.
Additionally, I'm told that there are actually a number of Democratic Senators also planning to vote No on any bill that doesn't include a public option. They haven't made their names public, due to the Senate's tradition of "comity" (outward friendliness), but there are more than 5 of them, and they're probably enough to kill a bill that would probably need every single Democrat voting for it to pass. So Reid is being pressured both from within the Senate and from the House, into passing a public option if he wants to pass anything.
We have two points of pressure to apply:
One: Support the House Progressives who have signed the letter saying they will vote No on any bill without a public option, so they stick to what they've pledged despite all the pressure they're likely to be under to back off.
Two: Try to get the Sneate Finance committee to stall and not pass a bad bill.
A word about supporting the Reps who signed the letter... here's Darcy Burner's plea, paraphrased: "When they do something lobbyists want, they get a big fat check, and a thank-you visit. when they do something we (progressives) want, sometimes they don't even get a single phone call!!" Darcy told me about one Representative who, when he voted against the FISA bill last year with immunity for warrantless wiretapping, got something like 50 thank you phone calls, and about $1200 in small donations. That seems like very little, yet she says he was so excited about it he's still bringing it up now. Remember, these are Reps who want to do that things we want them to do. We don't need to give them more money than the lobbyists do, we just need to validate them in doing what they're already doing because they want to. We need to make them feel that it really is appreciated, so they'll feel confident when under pressure. It only takes a few phone calls, and a few small donations (100 people giving $12 each, for example).
If you want this to happen, do these things this week:
- Look at this list of House members who signed the letter and if yours is on it, make a quick phone call to say thank you.
- Even better, if you can, make a small donation - even if it's just $10. And then - this is key - call the Representative to not only thank him/her, but also to say "I just made a small donation to you because you committed to vote No on health care reform if it doesn't have a strong public option." Imagine the effect it'd have on someone, who wants a public option, to know that people gave them money specifically because they said they'd vote this way. How can they back down now?
- Is your rep not on the list? Donate to some others, and call them and tell them you gave money because of this.
- Your rep not on the list? Find a Rep on the list whose district has someone you know in it, and get that someone you know to call them and say thank you. Find another, and another, and repeat.
- Massachusetts people: John Kerry is on the Senate Finance Committee. He wants a public option. Call him and urge him to pledge to vote no in committee on any bill without a strong public option. Literally that: vote no in committee. It'd only take a few Senators to block the compromise from passing, and if the Finance Committee can't produce a bill, then the much better HELP committee bill will become the base bill on the Senate floor. Then theres no need for a fight between the Senate and the House, and we win.
- Non-MA people: see if your Senator is on the Finance Committee.
- Sign Democracy for America's petition and DFA/PCCC's advertisement for the public option. DFA is Howard Dean's organization, and his top focus these days is getting a public option passed.
Edit: To find a Senator or Representative's phone number:
- Google their name
- Go to their house.gov or senate.gov web site, and click "contact"
- Call their DC office, the one with a 202 area code. Local offices usually focus on constituent services, DC offices handle legislation.