Article: Liberal House Democrats hold their ground on health care (Politico)


Liberal House Dems hold their ground

By: Patrick O'Connor
August 4, 2009 12:00 PM EST

Liberal Democrats in the House are holding their ground on a key issue in health reform, reiterating their opposition to any health care bill that would require government-sponsored coverage plans to negotiate payments with doctors or other health care providers.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaders of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus reaffirmed their stand against a deal cut with four conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

These liberal lawmakers are particularly concerned with comments the speaker made to a small group of reporters Friday that were included in a Monday Washington Post story about lingering divisions in her caucus after last week's fractious Energy and Commerce vote.

"Are you asking me, 'Are the progressives going to take down universal, quality, affordable health care for all Americans?' I don't think so," Pelosi said with a laugh.

In the letter, the two co-chairs of the caucus — Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and California Rep. Lynn Woolsey — say their members are prepared to vote against any bill that doesn't require government-sponsored public health care plans to pay providers some multiple of Medicare costs.

The two Democrats also ask the speaker to reinstate subsidies to help middle-income families pay for mandated insurance coverage, but most of that money was supposed to be restored in a last-minute deal between the four Blue Dogs and liberals on Energy and Commerce.

In the House, liberals are at odds with conservative Democrats over the size and strength of these public health care plans — all while the Senate looks like it might bypass the public plans altogether in favor of co-ops organized by doctors, businesses and individuals on the national, state and local level.

Moderate-to-conservative Democrats, who want to make sure government-sponsored coverage doesn't undermine the private market, are pushing for changes that would make these plans an alternative of last resort — especially if the Senate moves legislation that doesn't even include them.

But this liberal resistance to any changes that are seen as watering down the public plans makes the bill an even harder negotiation on the House floor for Pelosi and her leadership team.

"A majority of our members prefer single payer," Grijalva and Woolsey say in the letter, referring to a system of government-funded, government-run universal health care that famously never survived congressional consideration back in 1993 and 1994 — the last time Washington tried to drastically expand coverage. "Nonetheless, we stand solidly behind our criteria for a robust public option. We cannot support anything less."