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Grayson, Progressives Push Reid To Strong-Arm Lieberman, Conservative Dems

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UPDATE: Reid pushed back Wednesday afternoon against the consensus that health reform is on him -- after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), laid the fate of the public option in the Majority Leader's hands Tuesday night. "He would rather say anything so it wasn't up to him," Reid snapped Wednesday, en route to a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Dodd said he expects the Senate finance and health bills to be reconciled by the end of next week. "The Leader will set the agenda," he said.

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Now that the primary responsibility for health reform has shifted to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, progressives are pushing him to get tough with conservative Democrats looking to delay progress of a unified Senate reform bill.

Progressive Caucus member Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and representatives from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee delivered their respective petitions to Reid's office Wednesday afternoon. With some 87,000 signatures collected in the past week, the PCCC urged Reid to strip leadership powers from members of the Democratic Caucus who do not vote for cloture to prevent a Republican filibuster -- a clear shot at Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who chairs the Homeland Security committee and said Monday he "wouldn't rule out" allowing a filibuster to proceed.

Reiterating the urgent need for reform outside the Hart Senate office building Wednesday afternoon, Grayson didn't single out any congressmen or senators, but said he was baffled by continued delays given the Democratic supermajority and the cost of delay.

"Every single day in America, 122 more Americans die for lack of health insurance. That means that as we stand here in front of you right now, one or two or three more Americans have died because we have not acted yet," Grayson said. "I apologized to the dead and their loved ones for our inaction. Now it's time to move beyond that and get the job done."

Grayson's own petition, launched last Friday, questioned the power wielded by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), noting that "Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year."

The PCCC members handed off the petitions to a Reid staffer, but spokesman Jim Manley said Reid is unlikely to pursue retribution against senators who fight reform. "Senator Reid is focused on crafting a health care bill that will overcome a Republican filibuster," Manley wrote in an e-mail. "Stripping Democratic Senators of their leadership titles is a decision that would be left up to the Caucus, not Senator Reid. In light of this reality it's unlikely that the Caucus would ever go along with this idea."

That's good news for Lieberman, who already owes Senate leadership -- and President Obama -- for letting him keep his chairmanship back in November after campaigning for John McCain.

Reid's deputy, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said the PCCC and Grayson ought to "count to 60 and understand we need to be together, and there are times when we need to work out our differences."

Grayson wasn't sympathetic to that argument Wednesday, noting that other Americans are paying the price while the Senate tries to work out its differences. Pulling a large American Journal of Public Health study from his jacket pocket, he said, paraphrasing the study authors, "You take two Americans who are otherwise identical in every single way -- same age, same gender, same race, same smoking habits, same weight -- you put them side by side, if one has insurance and one does not, the one without insurance is 40 percent more likely to die."

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