Forget the Blue Dogs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. The real "villains" in the fight for health care reform are insurance companies.
Work on the legislation resumed Thursday morning after more than a week of delays to accommodate conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Blue Dogs won significant concessions and also forced delay of a full House floor vote on the final bill until after Congress returns from its upcoming month-long recess.
But Pelosi on Thursday cast the blown deadline as a positive, arguing that the process is further along than it would have been with no date set. Meanwhile, her blistering attacks against health insurers offered a good preview of what to expect from Democrats trying to rally support for reform back at home.
"They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way," Pelosi said of the insurance industry after her weekly press conference. "It's almost immoral, what they are doing," she said, referring to industry lobbying against a public insurance plan option. "Of course, they've been immoral all along. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening, and the public has to know about it."
The current system works so well for insurers that they don't even want subsidies, Pelosi claimed. "They've had a good thing going for a long time at the expense of the American people and the health of our country," she said, adding that it will be tough to keep them from getting their way. "This is the fight of our lives."
Pelosi referred to the health insurance industry's campaign against reform -- specifically, the public option -- as "carpet bombing" and "shock and awe" during the press conference. She also sought to present a unified Democratic front, dismissing complaints from progressives that they have been shut out of negotiations dominated by swing Blue Dogs on Energy and Commerce.
"Progressives have been well represented," she said, noting that all three House committees that have worked on health care bills are chaired by progressives.
The public option currently outlined in the Energy and Commerce Committee is significantly weaker than the other two House committee bills, and more closely resembles that of the Senate health committee, in that it unlinks the plan from Medicare rates, leaving negotiation to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Pelosi reiterated her desire for a stronger public plan Thursday, but did not commit to it.
"I am for the strongest possible public option," she said. The Senate health committee bill "is one that I think would be okay. It's not my preference. My preference is a stronger bill. But it meets the test of having an effective public option."
The liberal wing of the party -- often Pelosi's strongest base of support -- is less willing to compromise. Chairs of the congressional progressive, black and Hispanic caucuses said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that they will not vote for the current Energy and Commerce language. They are circulating a letter to House leadership and the three committee chairs demanding a strong public option along the lines of the Ways and Means or Education and Labor language.
"Many of us favor a single-payer system standing up here today, but we have compromised," Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said. "We want a plan with a meaningful public option, and we can compromise no more." Fellow co-chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), also a vice chair of the Hispanic Caucus, said the delinking from Medicare is a particular sticking point.