Progressive Groups Back Health Care

Health care reform received a major boost. A coalition of progressive health care reform advocates have decided to back a controversial way to move health care forward.

Nearly one week after the Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate seat, political realities hit home with Democrats. Shell-shocked Democratic lawmakers in Washington walked in a symbolic haze, unsure how to move their agenda, especially health care, forward.

But a new development could help steer Democrats. A coalition of patient advocates located outside the Washington beltway are likely to support one of the most plausible, but controversial, ways to pass health care. They are likely to endorse the idea that the House pass the Senate version of the bill. But a caveat exists. They say the Senate must use reconciliation to “fix” less appealing measures of the bill. (Reconciliation is a procedural tactic to change spending and revenue components of the bill and needs only a simple majority in the Senate. It’s a way to overcome a Republican filibuster, which needs 60 votes.)

Ellen Shaffer, Co-Director of the Center for Policy Analysis based in California, described the crucial discussion that took place on her 1000 person list serve of patient advocates.   Shaffer said people debated if they should “throw in the towel and declare that this is too crummy of a package to go forward with or should we fight and try to encourage something to be passed.” Shaffer said ultimately, “folks wanted to keep at it.”

This development is important because this group of Washington outsiders, also known as constituents, represent progressives around the country.

But for many members of the House of Representatives, the idea is controversial because the Senate bill is vastly different than their version. The Senate bill provides less subsidies to buy health insurance, does not include a public option, and has weaker mandates on insurance companies to provide adequate coverage. Progressive members of Congress say the proposal is not acceptable.

Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), said he is skeptical that a House-passed Senate bill would be fixed through reconciliation. He thinks it will be easy for the Democratic Leadership to skip the reconciliation process and send the Senate bill straight to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Viewing the Senate bill as the simplest and least controversial vehicle for reform is a tempting but misguided trap,” Grijalva wrote in a statement last week.

Progressive groups inside Washington have also come out in support of passing the Senate bill using reconciliation.

Richard Kirsch, National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now, said this is a first step.”

Kirsch said he hopes the momentum is growing to pass the Senate bill. “We’re trying to forge a consensus. People are reevaluating after Massachusetts, but I think that’s where people are going to end up,” Kirsch said

Consensus seems to be growing.

Over the weekend, nearly 50 scholars and reform advocates, including the SEIU, published a letter in the New York Times that called for the House to pass the Senate health care bill. The letter said “The House faces a stark choice.”

One of the signatories is Simon Lazarus, Public Policy Council to the National Senior Citizens Law Center. Lazarus said this bill is weaker than the one he would have written, but it “is perhaps the most important and beneficial social legislation since maybe the Great Society days.”

It is a matter of convincing not only progressives, but many members of Congress, that passing the Senate bill is the best route. Many Senate Democrats have already  indicated that it would support the House passing its bill.

You can follow Leigh Ann Caldwell on Twitter and hear an audio version of this story on FSRN


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