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Pelosi Under Pressure From Progressives on Public Option

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists that the public option is dead

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists that the public option is dead, but progressive organizations are mounting an aggressive campaign to resurrect it as Democratic lawmakers gear up to pass a final health care bill this week via a budgetary process known as reconciliation.

Democracy for America, Credo Action, and the Progressive Campaign Change Committee (PCCC) raised $75,000 for a 60-second spot that will air on MSNBC, CNN and a local station in Pelosi’s home district of San Francisco. The ad challenges assertions she made last week that the public option does not have enough support from Democratic lawmakers in the Senate to be included as one of the amendments in the reconciliation bill.

On the Web site, the groups, in supporting calculations that the measure has enough votes to pass the Senate, list the names of Democratic senators who have either signed a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supporting the public option, or have made statements saying they would back it or would “likely” cast an “aye” vote if it were introduced as part of the final package of legislative fixes.

According to the letter sent to Reid, which 41 Democratic senators have signed thus far, an “overwhelming majority of Americans support a public option.

“We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules,” the letter says. “There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.”

The groups are attempting to raise additional funds to keep the ad running right up until Democrats vote on the health care bill, which could take place this weekend. These organizations claim that “51 senators will vote for a public option in reconciliation if it’s sent over by the House.”

The ad pieces together clips of various Democratic lawmakers publicly endorsing the public option, which would amount to a government-run insurance program to compete with the private sector.

The ad ends by saying the “Senate has the votes” and “the public option is in Pelosi’s hands.” Pelosi said she won’t send over a reconciliation bill to the Senate that includes the public option because she still maintains there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass it.

But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said last Friday that he believed he could muster up enough support for the public option to be included in the separate bill the Senate will vote on during the reconciliation process if it is included in the House bill.

“I want to be crystal clear: Senator Durbin and the rest of the Senate Leadership will be aggressively whipping FOR the public option if it is included in the reconciliation bill the House sends over,” according to a statement released to PCCC by Durbin’s spokesman Joe Shoemaker. But, Shoemaker added, “the Leaders will whip against any attempt to alter or amend the bill if the public option is not in it.

“I believe the progressive community’s best hope of seeing a public option in the health care bill is to lobby members of the House to include it in the reconciliation bill they send to the Senate and to continue to get senators to pledge their support for it,” Shoemaker said.

In other words, the burden lies with Pelosi.

Last week, at a news conference in which she announced that Congress was ready to vote on the health care bill, Pelosi said any attempt to reintroduce the public option would scuttle the bill and delay swift passage of the legislation. She said she has long been a staunch supporter of a government-run insurance program and noted that the public option was included in the House version of the bill passed last year.

“The public option, it isn’t without a little sadness that I view that it is not in the bill,” Pelosi said. “But in fighting for the public option, which is, I think, a fight that was led in the House, and we had it in our bill, we improved what is going to be in the final product, because while we may not have a public option, we have the purpose of the public option served by the exchanges and what they allow by the rate reviews, which we insisted upon, insurance rate reviews, and by saying that insurance companies, should they be raising rates between now and the onset of the exchanges, may be prohibited from participating in the exchanges.

“What we will have in reconciliation will be something that is agreed upon, House and Senate, that we can pass and they can pass,” she added.” So I’m not having the Senate, which didn’t have a public option in its bill, put any of that on our doorstep. We had it, we wanted it; they didn’t have it, it’s not in the reconciliation. But it has nothing to do with whether we initiated it here. We did initiate it. [The Senate] didn’t.”

The provision was included in the Senate version of the bill introduced last December but was removed on orders from the White House to appease conservative Democrats who balked at its inclusion in the final bill. That’s the version, along with a package of legislative changes the Senate will also pass via reconciliation, that the House will vote on and send to President Obama to sign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who caucuses with Democrats, said he believes the public option would have the support of a majority of Democrats to win passage during reconciliation.

“I think we have got to do everything that we can to get a public option, so that is absolutely something … somebody can and should do,” Sanders said. “I can’t swear it to you, but I do think we can. I think that some people for whatever reason choose not to sign a letter but will vote. Yeah, I think we’ve got it.”

Obama has not supported a public option, as evidenced by the fact that it was not included in his health care legislative outline released two weeks ago, because he too maintains it does not have the support of conservative Democrats whose support is crucial to ensure passage of a final health care bill.

The Kucinich Factor

On Monday, Obama traveled to Ohio where, speaking to a rally of nearly 1,500 people, he urged Congress to pass the health care bill and said the debate that has led to fierce partisan divides, even between Democrats who say the final bill still amounts to a multibillion dollar giveaway to the insurance industry, is “about far more than politics.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) accompanied the president to Ohio and the president said the two spoke about the health care bill aboard Air Force One.

“I was talking to Dennis Kucinich on the way over here about this,” Obama said. “It’s been such a long time since we made government on the side of ordinary working folks, where we did something for them that relieved some of their struggles, that just gave them a little bit of a better chance to live out their American dream.

“I don’t know about the politics, but I know what’s the right thing to do,” Obama added. “I’m calling on Congress to pass these reforms — and I’m going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the right thing, Ohio. And with your help, we’re going to make it happen.”

But Kucinich does not support the legislation Obama is calling on Congress to pass. Kucinich has been a proponent of a single-payer health care system, essentially “Medicare for all,” or a “robust” public option that would allow the government to compete with the private sector.

Kucinich sponsored an amendment that would have allowed individual states to create a single-payer system. But Democratic leaders acting on a request from the White House stripped it out of the version of the health care bill unveiled last year.

Kucinich has since become the target of blistering attacks by some leading progressive voices and organizations including Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and, because he indicated he would vote against the health care bill due to the fact that it does not include a public option. Kucinich’s opposition could sink the bill. He still has not stated how he intends to vote.

In an interview last Thursday on Democracy Now! Kucinich explained the reasons he has not wavered from his position.

“I have a responsibility to take a stand here on behalf of those who want a public option,” Kucinich said. “There’s about thirty-four members of the Senate, at least, who have signed on to saying they support a public option. If I were to just concede right now and say, ‘Well, you know, whatever you want. All this pressure’s building. Just forget about it,’ actually weakens every last-minute bit of negotiations that would try to improve the bill. So I think that it’s really critical to take this stand, because without it, there’s no real control over premiums. Without it, we have nothing in the bill except the privatization of our healthcare system.”

The former Democratic presidential candidate told supporters Monday that he now wants Congress to pass in reconciliation “The Medicare Public Option,” sponsored by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando), which would allow people under 65 to buy into Medicare, “at a fair price, if they want to.”

“The government spent billions of dollars creating a Medicare network of providers that is only open to one-eighth of the population,” Grayson said when he introduced the four-page measure on the House floor last week under the title, “The Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.” “That’s like saying, ‘Only people 65 and over can use federal highways.’ It is a waste of a very valuable resource and it is not fair. This idea is simple, it makes sense, and it deserves an up-or-down vote.”

Kucinich’s reelection campaign is airing radio ads in Cleveland, where he will be traveling with Obama, promoting the measure so the president “can hear them while he is in town, and know just how serious the people are about real reform. We want The Medicare Public Option!,” an email sent to his supporters said.

Presumably, if lawmakers supported the Medicare buy-in provision, which has 64 co-sponsors, Kucinich would vote in favor of the bill. Grayson did not oiginally call for the measure to be passed immediately, but Kucinich said the congressman has since supported the idea that it be voted on during the reconciliation process.

Aides to Pelosi, however, have said it’s “highly” unlikely the measure will be considered during reconcilation.

ActBlue Ad: “Tell Speaker Pelosi: Pass the Public Option”