How Labor, Grassroots Activists Say They Will Help Save Health Care Reform

Art Levine

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s announcement Thursday that a vote on health care reform will be delayed until the fall, the conventional wisdom mounted in Washington that President Obama’s health plan is in
deep trouble. Yet the President — and his progressive and labor supporters — aren’t swooning with anxiety over the latest legislative maneuverings.

The President told a town hall meeting in Ohio, as Newsweek reported:

That’s okay,” he said. My attitude is I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly, and so long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible.” Still, he added, We’ve got to get it done, and we’ve got to get it done soon.” He pressed Congress to get him a bill by the end of the year.” I want it done by the fall,” he insisted.

Union health care activists remain confident about passage, in part because of what health care journalist Ezra Klein has called the left’s suprising organizing advantage.”

This includes the efforts of labor unions on their own and part of such coalitions as Health Care For American Now; these groups are ramping up pressure on Blue Dog House Democrats and centrist Senators, and their obstructionism towards reform.

As The Hill reported:

The powerful senior citizens’ lobby AARP is joining forces with labor unions and liberal organizations to criticize a push by centrist Blue Dog Democrats in the House to reduce insurance subsidies under healthcare reform.

The AARP, the union-backed Health Care for America Now (HCAN), several unions and other allied groups urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and three House committee chairmen to resist making changes to the subsidies in the bill.

Though the letter does not mention the Blue Dogs or any centrist lawmakers by name, the AARP, HCAN and the other groups offer strong support for the health insurance premium subsidies already in the House bill, which are available to people earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level…

A separate statement from HCAN takes on the Blue Dogs directly, saying they are threatening affordable healthcare” by pressuring House Democratic leaders to dial back a proposed $544 billion surtax on wealthy people and reduce eligibility for the subsidies.

Buoyed in part by the hundreds of thousands of grassroots-driven calls, letters and other contacts already made to Conge, the AFL-CIOs health care advocate, Gerry Shea, observes:

We’re very close to completing the most comprehensive health reform legislation since Harry Truman. There is a consensus among Democrats on the broad outline for legislation and on all but a few specific issues. A small number of Democrats have major concerns over a couple of the most [painful] issues. There’s no big surprise in that —- it’s called legislating”, which is rightly compared to sausage-making. Congress hasn’t done much legislating over the last decade so people aren’t used to how rough and tumble it can be, including the press who are now saying everyday that the sky is falling.

The call to arms for activists allied with Organizing for America, the powerful grassroots lobby with its nearly 14 million Obama supporters from the campaign, will prove to be critical in the efforts to maintain momentum for change. As one local organizing alert said this week:

Momentum is building. Strong health care legislation with a public plan option passed two House committees and the Senate’s health committee. And polling continues to show wide support for the main provisions in those bills.

Yet the drumbeat for inaction continues to pound, with conservatives vowing to break Obama,” and the media headlining every hiccup and ignoring every success. And opponents are swamping Congress with calls and faxes against President Obama’s reforms.

There is only one way to break the Washington culture of inertia and pass legislation this year. SPEAK UP. Even Senators and Congresspeople who want to be with us, are begging to hear from constituents. And the opponents of change can’t be allowed to stand in the way of health reform.

We need to fight back, that is why we are hosting phonebanks every Tuesday through Thursday…

That can serve as a counterweight to the Republicans’ increasingly blunt declarations of determination to kill” reform, the latest coming from Republican Senator James Inhofe, as Think Progress headlined it:

Inhofe: If GOP Can Stall’ Or Block’ Health Care Reform, It Will Be A Huge Gain’ For The 2010 Elections “ In response, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) underscored the bankruptcy of the GOP position:

Slowly but surely the Republicans are revealing their true strategy on health care: partisans gamesmanship comes before getting something done. If Republicans believe doing nothing will ingratiate themselves with the American people, they have not learned a single lesson from the last two elections. Their do nothing approach is why health care costs have skyrocketed, and it’s why Republicans are in such a bad place today. This strategy is bad politics, but it is also a deeply troubling way to govern.

What progressives and labor have going for them now is that a desire for reform is still shared by a majority of the public in most recent polls, despite some softening of support. Some of the findings from the latest non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation poll:

As has been the case over the past ten months, a majority of the American people (56%) continue to believe that health reform is more important than ever despite the country’s economic problems.”

· The public believes by a two to one margin (51% versus 23%) that the country will be better rather than worse off if Congress and the president enact health reform.

· By an almost two to one margin more Americans think they and their family will be better off (39%) than worse off (21%) if legislation passes.”

· Half (51%) of the public is willing to pay more for expanding health coverage — up ten percentage points from last month.”

· 64% support increasing taxes for families making more than $250,000 annually.”

· 59% support creating a government -administered public health insurance option similar to Medicare to compete with private insurance plans.”

That poll offered encouraging signs overlooked amid a drumbeat of misleading coverage that downplays virtually any pro-reform development. As the Media Matters watchdog group reported (hat tip to Health Care for America Now blog):

In their health care reform coverage, media have repeatedly given considerably more attention to perceived setbacks to progressive reform efforts than to events that signal progress for those efforts. A Media Matters for America analysis of transcripts available in the Nexis database has found that broadcast and cable news featured almost twice as many segments mentioning the American Medical Association’s (AMAs) reported opposition to a public insurance plan as segments mentioning the AMAs recent announcement that it supported the House Democrats’ health care reform bill, which includes a public plan.

That finding is consistent with an earlier Media Matters study showing that the number of cable news segments in Nexis mentioning an initial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of an incomplete version of a Senate health committee draft bill was far greater than the number of segments mentioning a later CBO analysis. That later analysis showed that an updated version of the bill would cover more people for less than the earlier scoring had suggested.

Despite the media doom-saying, the on-the-ground organizing — from phone banks to petitions — to rally support for reform still seems likely to make an important difference in the weeks ahead. As Organizing for America Director Mitch Stewart said on Thursday:

Last night, the President delivered a powerful prime-time address about why further delay is simply not an option, and even more support came pouring in.

Now, we’re on the brink of a major milestone in building this campaign: One million Americans publicly declaring their support for the President’s three core principles for health insurance reform this year.

Our goal is to reach the one million mark before Congress casts the first crucial votes as early as next week. This is just a first step of many we’ll take together. But it will send a clear message that the American people will not stand for playing partisan politics with our lives and livelihoods — and that we won’t settle for anything less than the real health insurance reform America so desperately needs this year.

Add your name to stand up for the President’s three principles for real health insurance reform in 2009.

The best salesman for reform, of course, remains President Barack Obama:

Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
Brandon Johnson
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