WASHINGTON - Despite anger over Sen. Joe Lieberman's sabotage of a public option, Senate Democrats are pushing hard for a floor vote on health care reform before they adjourn for the Christmas-New Year break.
Swallowing their bitter resentment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and others made clear there is too much at stake in the health care reform bill to let it die. Brown, perhaps the most progressive senator, an outspoken fighter for a government-funded public option, rebutted Lieberman's arguments that allowing people to buy in to Medicare at age 55 would be too costly. "I made a direct appeal to him and answered the arguments," Brown said, adding, "We're not giving up. It's going to conference" He was referring to a House-Senate conference that must resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.
Yet Brown added, "I can't imagine that I wouldn't (vote for the Senate bill). There is just too much at stake."
The House version contains a strong public option. The public option is not the only issue hanging fire in an upcoming House-Senate conference. The House version contains the Stupak-Pitts amendment that would strip women of abortion coverage even if they pay for it with their own money. The Senate rejected a similar amendment sponsored by Dem. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The Senate leadership-and abortion rights groups are struggling to persuade Nelson not to hold health care reform hostage on the abortion issue.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker hailed Sen. Bernie Sanders for introducing an amendment, Dec 10, to eliminate the tax on health benefits charging that "it would ask workers who already have it to pay more for the health they have now. That goes back on the promises Democrats made in 2008, the promise of real health care reform that helps, not hurts, working families."
She pointed out that 70 percent of Americans believe that taxing middle-income worker benefits is the wrong way to pay for health care reform. "Union members know first hand that a tax on working families is the wrong way to pay for health care reform. They have fought hard for their modest health care benefits and they know there is nothing ‘Cadillac' about them."
During a meeting at the White House Tuesday Dec. 15, President Obama exhorted the senators to push the health care bill through, pointing out it will make health insurance more affordable for 30 million uninsured people, outlaw the denial of coverage for people with "pre-existing conditions," prohibit lifetime caps, exclusions and ending insurance company practices of dropping people who fall ill or need costly operations.
"These aren't small changes. These are big changes," said Obama. "They represent the most significant reform of our health system since the passage of Medicare. ...And they're going to save lives."
Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean was so angry at the stripping out of the public option that he called for defeat of the Senate bill, denouncing the measure as a "bailout for the insurance industry."
Instead, he said, the Senate should resort to passing a bill with a strong public option through the reconciliation process that requires a simple majority vote of 51 instead of the filibuster-proof 60 votes.
Families USA released a statement saying the organization strongly supports the public option "as a way to force private insurers to deliver better, cheaper services." The statement added, "It became clear that it is not politically possible to achieve the 60 votes needed to move health reform out of the Senate without a compromise on this issue. Despite feelings of anger and disappointment, health reform must move forward. We must not give up on the gains that low and middle-income families will realize if legislation passes."
Organizing for America (OFA) sent out an email appeal for "one million calls" to senators urging them to pass the bill. "If we don't pass health reform, millions of Americans will be trapped in a broken status-quo, unable to pay their bills or see a doctor when they need one," the OFA message read. Since August, 849,856 people have sent messages urging enactment of health care reform.