One of the country's most prominent union officials is warning that big labor may pull its support from Democrats who don't fight for a government-run insurance plan.
In an interview with the Huffington Post on Saturday, Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer and likely next president of the AFL-CIO, said his federation is drawing a line in the sand when it comes to a public option in the health care bill. Lawmakers who don't support the provision, he said, shouldn't take anything for granted.
"We'll look at every one of their votes," Trumka said after his speech at the Netroots Nation convention. "If they're against the Employee Free Choice Act, if they're against health care for that reason, I think it'll be tough for them to get support from working people."
Trumka's remarks were echoed privately by several other labor officials at the convention in Pittsburgh. In particular, the emerging Senate Finance Committee plan - which seems unlikely to contain a public option and could end up taxing pricey health care packages - seems almost guaranteed to incite the unions.
"We'll oppose it," Trumka said, when asked about any bill that ends the tax exemption for employer coverage. "It's actually a stupid concept because if you tax those that have it to pay for those that don't, eventually those that have [benefits] won't. Then who do you ultimately tax?"
Trumka's warning shots come at a time that the AFL-CIO is charting out a more aggressive campaign to target lawmakers who, as one official put it, "take labor's help but don't vote for labor's interests." Part of that process is to hold out the prospect of electoral consequences.
Former DNC Chair, Howard Dean, likewise predicted that Democrats who vote against the public option would have to deal with a primary challenge.
Meanwhile, a group of progressive members of the House of Representatives made it clear on Monday that they will not support a health care bill that doesn't include a government run option for insurance coverage.
The AFL-CIO also intends to campaign against targets within the Republican Party and conservative media. In his speech on Saturday, Trumka called out "the entire cast at Fox News," for perpetuating fear and mistruths about the President's health care agenda. He also called Rush Limbaugh a "loudmouth," and decried the fake-grassroots movements being orchestrated in opposition to Democratic reform.
"We are going to continue to mobilize and counter the lies and the myths that they're trying to create to defeat this," he told the Huffington Post. "The special interests, the pharmaceutical industry, the health care industry are so vested in the current system they'll so anything to keep it this way and we have a job to do there.
"We're also going to keep politicians strong so that they don't listen to the moneymen and continue to erode away or negotiate away a program [so much that it] ultimately becomes useless. Right now, without a public option [reform] becomes useless. It won't change the current system."