House Progressives Making Another Attempt to Overcome Conservatives and Pass a Public Option

03/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Chellie and Jared-- still fighting for real healthcare reform

As we saw the other day, virtually the only way to turn the Senate health care bill into a positive-- a positive that would help re-elect worried Democratic freshmen-- would be to restore the public option. This is fully borne out by Research 2000 polling data that shows a snapshot of voter sentiment in 10 contested freshmen-held districts confirming that:

  • 68% of voters want a public health insurance option
  • By 5 to 1, voters want their Representative to fight to add the public option over simply passing the Senate bill
  • By 3 to 1, persuadable voters are less likely to vote for local Democrat if Congress doesn't pass a public option as part of reform
  • 55% say Democrats need to do more to fight big corporations
  • 56% say Democrats haven't done enough to fulfill Obama's 2008 campaign promises
  • 52% of Democrats less likely to vote in 2010 if Congress doesn't pass public option-- Republicans more likely

Yesterday two of the more progressive members of Congress, Jared Polis of Colorado and Chellie Pingree of Maine, sent an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking him to put the public option back on the table. The body of their letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

As the Senate continues to work on health reform legislation, we strongly urge you to consider including a public option.

Here are the reasons for this request:

1) The public option is overwhelmingly popular.

A December New York Times poll shows that, despite the attacks of recent months, the American public supports the public option 59% to 29%. And a recent Research 2000 poll found 82% of people who supported President Obama in 2008 and Scott Brown for Senate last week also support the public option. Only 32% of this key constituency is in favor of the current Senate bill-- with more saying it "doesn't go far enough" rather than it "goes too far."

Support for health care legislation started to fall as popular provisions like the public option were stripped out and affordability standards were watered down. The American people want us to fight for them and against special interests like the insurance industry, and it is our responsibility to show them that their voices are being heard.

2) The public option will save billions for taxpayers, speaking to the fiscally-responsible sensibilities of our constituents.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the public option will save taxpayers anywhere from $25 billion to $110 billion and will save billions more when private insurers compete to bring down premium costs. The stronger the public option, the more money it saves.

By including the public option, we can simultaneously reduce tax increases and the deficit. This is a common-sense way to temper the frustration of Americans who question whether Congress is spending their money wisely and fighting for the middle class.

3) There is strong support in the Senate for a popular public option.

It is very likely that the public option could have passed the Senate, if brought up under majority-vote "budget reconciliation" rules. While there were valid reasons stated for not using reconciliation before, especially given that some important provisions of health care reform wouldn't qualify under the reconciliation rules, those reasons no longer exist. The public option would clearly qualify as budget-related under reconciliation, and with the majority support it has garnered in the Senate, it should be included in any healthcare reform legislation that moves under reconciliation.

As Democrats forge "the path forward" on health care, we believe that passing the public option through reconciliation should be part of that path. We urge you to favorably consider our request to include a public option in the reconciliation process.

Democrats in the House are stampeding to sign onto the letter. There were already 28 co-signers the last time I looked: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Robert Brady (D-PA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI), Pete DeFazio (D-OR), Michael Doyle (D-PA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Bob Filner (D-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), John Hall (D-NY), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), George Miller (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and David Wu (D-OR).

A couple things I noticed. Every Oregon House member signed except the two conservatives, Republican Greg Walden and Blue Dog Kurt Schrader. And I see Lynn Woolsey signed. What's so strange about that? Well, nothing; Woolsey always votes right and more often than not stands up and fights for working families. But last week she threw her lot in with one of the most reactionary Democratic members of the House-- also the wealthiest-- Jane Harman and used as an excuse that Harman was so helpful on healthcare reform. House whips tell me Woolsey was making it up and that Harman has been a bad faith player behind the scenes. Today, of course, she refused to sign the letter to Reid.

I would venture to guess that if progressive community activist Marcy Winograd were already in Congress-- she's challenging Harman for the southwest Los Angeles seat-- she would have joined Polis and Pingree in writing the letter. In fact, I called Marcy and asked her about the letter and how she felt about this approach. Her response didn't surprise me:

The only hope for passage of a comprehensive health care bill rests with the inclusion of a public option that allows all of us to opt out of the wasteful and restrictive private insurance system. To coerce Americans to buy private insurance is not just a tough sell, but an impossible sell because we all know that to mandate private health insurance constitutes a corporate raid on our treasury. Look at what happened in Massachusetts; voter revolt.

Democrats still have an opportunity to provide quality and affordable health care for all-- and to win in the mid-term elections-- provided they get out from under the thumb of the health insurance lobby and demand a public option along the lines of Medicare.

America needs hundreds of Marcy Winograds fighting for us in Congress. Alas, there's only one. Please join Blue America in helping her replace a disgraceful Blue Dog with a long career of representing corporate managers over the interests of her own constituents, consumers, workers and ordinary families. You can do it here.