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Noelle Bell Headshot

Will Our Progressives In Congress Fight For The Public Option?

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It's clear that the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition have an uncanny ability to block progressive legislation by demanding concessions from the Democratic leadership to weaken vital parts of progressive legislation in exchange for their votes for the passage of legislation, and that the Congressional Progressive Caucus didn't know how to exercise that ability until the whole fight for health care reform began in the spring.

What's unique about the Blue Dog Democrats is their ability to block legislation, simply by making threats and bargaining with the Democratic leadership and the White House. This means that the resulting legislation gets weaker, and that progressive elements of legislation are stripped out in exchange for passage of the legislation. The Blue Dogs have done this repeatedly over the past year, with the stimulus bill, the ACES bill, and now they're doing it to the health care bill in the House. The White House has to do hold hands with these Blue Dogs in order for their votes for passage of the legislation. The White House has made the political calculation here that it's important to appease the Blue Dogs and make bills more conservative in Congress for the passage of the bills, than it is to pass excellent bills.

The White House could twist the arms of these Blue Dogs behind the scenes and make electoral threats about not supporting them if they don't support the Democratic progressive agenda in Congress. Rahm Emmanuel could do this on behalf of the White House, but he was the one who helped recruit most of these Blue Dogs, and the only arms he's been twisting in the past year have been the arms of the progressive members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Especially when it came to bills like the ACES climate bill, where Blue Dogs demanded concessions to nuclear and coal industries, and progressives were steam-rolled into supporting what they saw as a weak bill that wouldn't do much for the environment. A lot of vote whipping went on behind the scenes from the Democratic leadership, and the White House, with much of it aimed towards the progressives.

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus had stood together as a 77-member voting bloc in refusing to vote for a weakened ACES climate bill, they would've been able to wrangle concessions from the Democratic leadership and the White House to strengthen the ACES bill in exchange for its passage. That's what they could have done if they had chosen to make a stand on the ACES bill.

However, the Congressional Progressive Caucus recently said they're making their stand on the public option in health care reform. The question is, will the Congressional Progressive Caucus stand together as a voting bloc in refusing to vote for a weakened health care bill without a public option? We already know they support a strong, robust Medicare-like public option. We need them to make a real stand as a voting bloc and start exercising their power by taking The Pledge.

If more than 40 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus take the pledge, then we know they're serious about health care reform, and aren't just spouting words while folding behind the scenes through having their arms twisted by the Democratic leadership and the White House to support a health care reform bill without a public option. We need to get them on the record, and once they're on the record, then they'll actually have exercised their power as a voting bloc by making their threat real. It means the Democratic leadership has to listen to them and so does the White House if they want to get real health care reform passed through Congress.

So far, these progressives have come out in strong support of the public option by taking the pledge: Cleaver, Ellison, Woolsey, Grijalva, Waters, Holt, Nadler, and Hare. That's 8 down -- we just need 32 more progressives to get on record. Once they take a stand on the public option in health care reform -- then their power as a voting bloc will last into other policy issues, and they should be made aware of that.