Conservatives Successfully Dividing Democrats on Health Care


Progressives hold firm on their insistence that a public option be part of a health care plan. This comes one day after Democrats and the White House signal that a government- run public option could be dropped.

As opponents attempt to derail health care reform, divisions amongst Democrats are growing deeper.

Progressive members of Congress say they refuse to support health care reform that fails to include a public option. In a statement, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote “recent comments by Obama Administration officials regarding the public option and health reform are deeply troubling.”

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus wrote in his statement said that “a majority of the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will oppose any healthcare reform legislation that does not include a robust public option. Our position has not, and will not, change.”

On the first week of August, 60 progressive members of Congress sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi outlining their demands. For them, a public option is essential.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also released as statement Monday defending a public option. “A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage,” Pelosi said.

News broke on the Sunday talk shows indicating that White House officials and Democrats might drop the government-run public option might not be included.

Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, indicated the administration could accept a bill with out a public option. On CNN’s State of the Union, Sebelius said “it’s not an essential element.”

“What’s important is choice and competition and I’m convinced that at the end of the day the plan will have both of those,” Sebelius said.

This followed a week of intense pressure from conservatives both in the media and at town hall meetings.

Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) is one of the Democratic negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee. He said there is little chance that a public option will be included in the Senate.

“The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option and there never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit is a wasted effort,” Conrad said on Fox News Sunday.

Reform advocates are fighting back. A coalition of groups have launched a 5 day television ad campaign targeting Republicans. It is running in one state and seven congressional districts and will cost $650,000.

Jacki Schechner is with the public advocacy group Health Care for America Now, one of the groups sponsoring the TV blitz. Despite the negative television coverage of angry town halls, she insists that the public supports a public option.

“We’ve gotten farther than we’ve ever been before so we’re going to continue to remind members of Congress that they’ve got the public on their side and they’ve got the power of the people on their side and we just are going to continue to remind them to keep the momentum going through the recess,” Schechner said.

Others are also pressuring lawmakers to keep the Public Option. Ralph G. Neas, CEO of the National Coalition of Health Care. He says it seems that lawmakers and the White House are unsure how to move forward.

“The President has made it clear that he wants his objectives… but he’s trying to figure out an endgame strategy and that’s what’s in doubt.”