POLITICS
12/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Progressives Push Pelosi On Public Option

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus met with House Democratic leaders Thursday afternoon to reiterate their commitment to a strong public option tied to Medicare reimbursement rates.

In her weekly press briefing Thursday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she still personally supports the "robust" option but did not commit to its inclusion in the final bill. "We don't intend to move forward without a public option in our bill," Pelosi said. "What form that will take, I don't know."

The progressive caucus has been whipping its members to find out how committed the bloc is to oppose any bill without a public option tied to Medicare reimbursement rates. CPC leaders delivered the tally, which co-chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) described as "significant," to leadership at the meeting. Co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said "the great majority of our caucus" stands behind a public plan that would reimburse at a rate 5 percent above Medicare, rather than a public option that must negotiate with insurers on its own. "We're not on negotiated rates," Woolsey said.

Progressives said they believe their position is pretty clear. "We're just reaffirming what we say over and over again," Grijalva said. "We plan on Medicare plus five. There's a great deal of caucus support for it. They asked us to do this count, and we provided it."

The discussion didn't end there, however. "No decision's been made," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a CPC member himself and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who had to bargain with conservative Blue Dog Democrats on his committee for a weaker public option with negotiated rates. Woolsey said she hopes to see a draft of the final House bill coalesce next week, but Progressive Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the latter of whom co-chairs the leadership steering committee, said no dates are certain. "They're not at that point," Waters said.

In the meantime, some members are looking at a proposal from Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) for state-run public plans. Given that the federal health reforms on the table wouldn't take effect until 2013, "I've just been saying that I think we ought to be doing some pilots in that three-year period in order to see what best practices can be developed," Clyburn said, claiming that he's heard "a lot of receptivity" among Congressional Democrats.

Progressives told the Huffington Post they were somewhat skeptical of Clyburn's proposal -- and a similar one offered by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) -- but many said they'd reserve judgment until they saw more details. "People are going to try to ferret out how it could work," DeLauro said. Single-payer crusader Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said he'd consider supporting any amendment that strengthens the ability of states to create a single-payer system, but he was unsure whether or not state-run public options would do so.

Clyburn said he has not asked the White House to opine on a state-run public option proposal. "That's not my job," he said.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she expects President Obama to join Pelosi in pushing for cost reduction. "I feel confident that the White House will weigh in on a bill that makes health care affordable for the middle class," she said. "That's the Speaker's litmus test, I think that'll be his litmus test, and he will weigh in."

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