The head of the most powerful union group in the country said on Thursday that the Senate version of the health care bill will not survive a vote in the House without substantial changes.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told the Huffington Post that both he and his members are "extremely disappointed" with the compromises conservative Democrats extracted from Senate leaders. Rather than formally opposing the bill, he expressed confidence that it will change before passage
"If the Senate bill in its current form went to the House it would go down," he declared.
"I can tell you this," he added. "The plan as it currently is would not get much support from the American worker unless it is improved.
"So that is another line they are going to have to deal with. Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi I think will adequately represent everybody involved. And I think that is a better model for a bill."
In separate statements on Thursday, both Trumka and SEIU President Andy Stern expressed similar concerns with the Senate bill: That without a public option for insurance, and with a provision that taxes high-end health care plans that cover many union members, the bill doesn't create enough competition and lacks an equitable source of revenue.
There is a growing private consensus among union officials that they will have to give up hopes of expanded government-run insurance (if they haven't already) in exchange for replacing the Senate's revenue provisions with the one adopted by the House -- which relies on increasing taxes on the wealthy.
"A progressive tax structure is very, very important," said Trumka. "But so is a public option. And I'm not willing to negotiate right now and jettison any one of those because I think they are both important items.
"I'm not willing to declare [the public option] dead," he added.
Asked about the seeming willingness of progressive Democratic Senators Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) to do just that, Trumka replied: "So what? So what?.... What are they saying in the House? Nancy Pelosi isn't saying this is dead, that's dead? Everything is dead? Has the House said that? No. There are two chambers involved here.... What I'm saying is we are not ready to stop fighting and we are going to improve this bill because it is inadequate as presently constituted."
Trumka repeatedly stressed that the union community is unwilling to take the consider the Senate bill a done deal. He noted that, as a union leader in the coal mines, he once got President George H.W. Bush to sign into law a health care package for his members. He also referenced his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and Franco Harris's "Immaculate Reception" as a means of underscoring that the unexpected, last minute victory isn't necessarily impossible.
Notably, he refused to cast blame for the fate of the Senate bill either on the Democratic leadership (the White House included) or those conservative Democrats who demanded that the public plan be dropped. It was the Republican Party, unwilling to negotiate from the start, that roused his ire.
As for the obstinacy of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), "I'm not even going to go there," Trumka said. "Seriously. I'm not going to go there. If you had 10 Republicans who were willing to be legislators, would [Lieberman or Ben Nelson] matter? So you want to point the finger. You point the finger at 40 senators who have said no to everything and offered nothing in its place."
Trumka did, however, suggest that while Democrats aren't fully responsible for the quality of the Senate bill, they could and will bear the brunt of the blame -- and electoral consequences -- should the legislation pass.
"If you tax the benefits of workers so that they have less health care," Trumka said, "I mean I would expect them to consider that when voting."