Last Hope for Healthcare?  Liberals’ Feb. 24 ‘Virtual’ DC March, Reconciliation

Art Levine

In advance of next week’s health care summit with GOP leaders who may not even show up for the February 25th event, President Obama and his White House team are drafting a compromise proposal that aims, once again, to lure some bipartisan support.

Unlike earlier health reform initiatives, though, the White House is finally taking a stronger role in declaring what it wants in the bill, while more strongly signalling that it’s willing to consider using reconciliation to pass health reform if, as expected, the olive branch to the GOP is rejected.

But with so many moving parts needed to mesh to get healthcare reform over the goal line, as the strategically savvy Chris Bowers of Open Left observes, By the end of next week, the health reform process will either start moving again, or it really will be dead for another decade or so.”

Trying to avoid that fate is the motivation behind a last-minute Web-driven effort by Daily Kos, SEIU and Health Care for America Now to get a million voices to make themselves heard in Washington on February 24 — the sort of inflated prediction that could make the real outcome seem weak, while the sort of real march on Washington that galvanized the civil rights movement has never materialized.

In truth, the pending White House proposal before the bipartisan health summit won’t be the Web activists’ dream legislation, lacking a public option and keeping the so-called Cadillac tax,” even though the administration is indicating that it will supposedly fight for a public option if Senate leaders back it. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that promise to be fulfilled. Still, as Talking Points Memo noted, when Rachel Maddow asked HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius whether the White House would fight for it if Senate leaders revive it, she replied Certainly, if it’s part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward. Absolutely.”

Even as moving the public option through reconciliation appears to be rising from the dead – with at least 19 Senators supporting using the legislative maneuver to pass the public opion – early signs are that the President’s proposal to be unveiled next week will refelect the watered-down approach of the mild Senate version instead. It won’t include a public option, and it will include the January compromise with unions about raising thresholds for the so-called Cadillac tax”, a deal now apparently losing ground with unions.

As Greg Sargent reported in the Washington Post’s Plum Line:

Bottom line: It’s all but certain to have the Cadillac tax in it, even though House Dems oppose it, and no public option, aides say.

According to multiple reports this morning, Obama will bring some version of a bill containing elements of the Senate and House proposals to the summit next week.

The White House has arrived at a general outline of what this proposal will look like, a senior Dem leadership aide tells me. It will largely reflect the compromise reached between the House and Senate in January: It will likely contain the national exchange sought by House Dems, and tougher penalties on businesses that don’t insure workers.

Also, the White House has told the House Dem leadership that it isn’t prepared to raise the threshold of the Cadillac tax, as many House Dems want, the leadership aide says. The White House prefers instead to keep the version already agreed upon with unions, the aide adds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to present the compromise proposal to the Dem caucus early next week before green-lighting it. But if the Cadillac tax stays, the House leadership will object to it and demand further negotiations over it after the summit, the aide says.

But House leaders are under no illusions, and expect the White House to go to the summit with a proposal in hand that includes the Cadillac tax as is, and no public option, the leadership aide says.

This is what the White House wants to do,” the aide says, adding that even if the proposal does contain the Cadillac tax, it’s not a done deal. It can be changed later.” This doesn’t preclude a reconciliation vote on the public option later, however.

One other thing: Dems are unlikely to present the compromise as a deal” between the House and the Senate, because this would open it up to GOP charges that it was cooked up in back rooms. Instead, it will be presented by the White House.

President Obama will further make the case for moving forward on health reform in his Saturday radio address, but the real action this week has been taking place in the Senate. But, to clear up any misconceptions among progressives, support for reconciliation doesn’t necessarily translate into support for the public option. As Open Left reports:

With 38-39 Senators open to reconciliation, and probably several more who simply have not returned out calls at this point, the Senate appears very close to having enough votes to pass a health reform fix” through reconciliation. The White House provides more evidence for such speculation, given that they are now drafting a health reform bill that can be passed through reconciliation…

The push for a reconciliation fix” will likely come to a head next week. Here is how:

  1. The White House will likely post their draft compromise bill on Monday. 
  2. When Congress is back in session, on either Tuesday or Wednesday we will be able to get statements from enough Senators on using reconciliation to prove that health reform can be finished that way. 
  3. On Wednesday and Thursday, progressive advocacy groups will unleash a lot of activism on behalf of passing health care. 
  4. On Thursday, The bi-partisan summit will take place, putting health care at the top of the news cycle, and likely making Republicans look bad.

Combined, all of this can, and needs to, bring health reform negotiations to a head. If the legislative wheels don’t start moving again after a push of this size, it seems very unlikely to me that any health reform legislation will pass in 2010. This is likely the last, big push.

Meanwhile, progressive groups under the Health Care for America Now banner are organizing a last-ditch march and vigil to dramatize the cost in lives of not having health reform, but it’s not clear at this point how much difference this sort of protest will make:

A group of Pennsylvanians are Marching from Philadelphia to Washington, DC between February 17 and 24 in honor of Melanie Shouse. This is why.

Recently, our friend, Melanie Shouse lost a long battle with breast cancer after missing out on critical treatment because she, like thousands of others, could not find affordable health insurance.

Melanie did everything she could to fight for health care, not just for herself, but for all of us. President Obama, who knew Melanie as a volunteer on his campaign, said: She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health insurance, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the same situation and she didn’t want somebody else going through that same thing.” It was a long road for Melanie, but she never gave up.

A lot of us are frustrated that, after mobilizing for over a year to reform health care, rein in Wall Street, create good jobs, win workers’ rights, and combat global warming, we are still waiting for the change we voted for. But we’re not giving up either. A group of Pennsylvanians, some with health care issues of their own, decided to march 135 miles from Philadelphia to Washington in honor of Melanie, carrying her message to the Members of Congress who need to hear it the most.

We’ll arrive on February 24th, just before President Obama’s Health Care Summit. So, as the summit begins we’ll be there to tell lawmakers enough is enough! Members of Congress have had plenty of time to discuss and debate health care over the past year. Now it’s their job to make it happen. It’s time to get it done and get it done right. Congress must deliver the change we voted for!

We’d like you to meet us as we march to deliver Melanie’s message to Washington. You can join us for part of the march or for an event along the way. Our route and a list of the events we have already planned can be found here. Check back often as we are adding events.

We’d especially like you to bring us your stories about the need for health care reform, which we will take to the members of Congress we meet. Or even better, you can join hundreds of people for the last mile of the march to the Capitol. (Join us at our staging area Union Station at 12:30 pm. RSVP here).

You can follow our progress us on-line at www​.mela​nies​march​.com and on Twitter (we’re tweeting from HCANPA and using the hashtag #melaniesmarch). And please show your support for our march by taking action in support of health care reform or making a donation in support of the march itself.

Contact me for more information or if you or your organization want to join the march at MarcStier@​hcanpa.​org 215.880.6142 with questions or to join the march.

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, the fragile agreemement with the unions over Washington insiders’ favorite pet idea — the now-discredited excise tax on health plans—seems to be falling apart, possibly threatening the prospects for passage of health reform legislation in both houses of Congress. As the New York Times reported:

An agreement to tax high-cost, employer-sponsored health insurance plans, announced with fanfare by the White House and labor unions last month, is losing support from labor leaders, who say the proposal is too high a price to pay for the limited health care package they expect to emerge from Congress.

But the White House is still urging Congress to adopt the excise tax as a way to help pay for President Obamas ambitious health care proposals.

With support for the tax eroding, Congressional leaders are searching for alternative sources of revenue.

The search has some urgency because Mr. Obama has said he hopes House and Senate Democrats can resolve their differences and come up with a final version of the legislation before he convenes a bipartisan meeting on the issue on Feb. 25.

When the tax agreement was announced on Jan. 14, White House officials described it as a breakthrough that would help clear the way for passage of sweeping health legislation.

Now it’s all up to some progressive Senators selling their colleagues on a stronger bill, while the netroots and their allies are hoping to deluge Washington with their calls for true reform:

And here comes the Cavalry to seal the healthcare deal.

Over the last week or so, we’ve mobilized an unprecedented coalition of the largest progressive organizations in the nation, including MoveOn, HCAN, DFA, Progressive Congress and SEIU–with others expected to join imminently.

On February 24th, the day before the Presidential Healthcare Summit, we will deliver to Washington DC, a scream they will never, ever forget.


We’ll do this via calls, faxes, Tweets, Facebook, emails, telegrams, balloon drops and carrier pigeons. Whatever. It. Takes.

This coalition is committed like nothing this country has ever witnessed, to turning the dream of guaranteed and affordable healthcare into reality.


Repeat after me, please: Wednesday, February 24th, a day Washington will never forget.

The Daily Kos diarist proclaimed:

I now believe, come hell or high water, President Obama will sign a bill, and it might even include a public Option.

Failure is not an option. Don’t believe me about the nightmare consequences of failure, but please believe Paul Krugman. So this miraculous day in the Rose Garden or Oval Office must happen, and in large part it will happen due to the hard work all of us will undertake on Wednesday, February 24th.

It is change at least these bloggers and activists can believe in — even if the inside players in Washington have shown little inclination so far to share such a grand vision.

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.
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