Andy Stern: 'It's time to vote,' pass the Senate health-reform bill
By Alec MacGillis
On Thursday morning, Andy Stern, the influential leader of the Service Employees International Union, sent a letter to his union's members that seemed designed to further fuel dissatisfaction on the left with concessions made in the health-care reform legislation.
"SEIU does not accept that this monumental effort -- that this reform that is so necessary to the health and wellbeing of our economy, our families and our future -- can be over without a fight," he wrote.
"But we aren't the only ones who must fight," he added. "President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His call of 'Yes We Can' was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself. We all stood shoulder to shoulder with the President during his hard fought campaign. And, we will continue to stand with him but he must fight for the reform we all know is possible."
Coming at the same time as Howard Dean's declaration that the Senate bill must be blocked, Stern's letter seemed to signal further insurrection on the left -- an insurrection that already has resulted in a sharp drop in support for health-care reform by the Democratic base and threats by at least one liberal senator to withhold his vote for the bill.
But Stern may have realized he was playing with fire, because on Thursday afternoon he delivered a decidedly more nuanced message on a conference call with reporters.
The Senate bill is indeed flawed, he said, citing its lack of affordable coverage, publicly-funded insurance option, and creation of a new tax on costly insurance plans like those many union members have. But, Stern said, the best outcome at this point is for the Senate to pass the bill as is and then leave it to a conference committee to hash out the differences with the House bill, which he and many liberals prefer.
Going further, he acknowledged that the public option would in all likelihood not be included in the final bill coming out of the conference. But he also suggested that was not reason enough to oppose the bill in the final analysis.
"The question now is about getting the job done," he said. "When it's all done we can do the analysis ... and sit around talking about all the ways we could have made it better... It's time to end the debate. It's time to vote. It's time to move on."
Stern, who has visited the White House more often this year than any other labor leader, also had gentler words on the call for Obama than he did in the letter. The president was trying his best to wrestle the needed votes out of the Senate, Stern said, and then needed to bring all his influence to bear during the conference. "The president is doing everything he can," he said.
And what about the declaration by Dean -- an SEIU favorite in 2004 -- that the bill should be scrapped? "Howard Dean has always had a very strong point of view about health-care reform," Stern said, and left it at that.
Web Politics Editor
December 17, 2009; 3:25 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Health Care
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