Will the House Progressive Caucus Vote Against Health Reform? An Interview With Rep. Lynn Woolsey.
The theory in health-care reform has been, thus far, that Democrats need to worry about votes on their right flank. But California Rep. Lynn Woolsey, chair of the 80-member House Progressive Caucus, has been arguing the opposite: that Democrats need to worry about their left flank. The majority of her caucus, she says, will vote against a bill that doesn't include a robust public option. That's not been their approach to legislation in the past. But as ardent single-payer supporters, they feel they've compromised enough. We spoke this afternoon. A lightly edited transcript follows.
You've recently released principles defining what the Progressive Caucus would consider an acceptable public plan option. Want to say a bit about them?
The Progressive Caucus would prefer a single-payer system -- 99.9 percent of the 80 members have said they would vote for a single-payer system before anything else. Therefore you have to know what we're looking for, bottom line, is a robust public option that could get us to single payer in the future.
What that means is a public option that's equal to anything anyone else is offering and gets the same level of support as the insurance options and that allows every American to choose that public option if they prefer it.
When you say you want a potential path to single-payer, are you implying things like Medicare bargaining rates or taxpayer subsidies? Or would you accept one of these "level playing field" options that's being talked about?
The devil is in the details, of course. But the public plan won't have the level of marketing and overhead that every one of the insurance plans has. And it won't have to have investors to pay off. The public plan will cost less period. What we are demanding is that they don't subsidize the private plans to make up for their overhead.
Have you paid attention to the co-op alternative that Sen. Kent Conrad announced yesterday?
We didn't see it before we put together our principles. I'm not impressed with that idea myself. I would prefer a plan based on the Medicare model. We know it works! Why try something that we don't know will work?
You said in the Huffington Post that a majority of your caucus would not vote for a health-care reform plan without a public option.
Without a good, solid, public option, we will not vote for it.
One of the things that has defined some of the legislative maneuvering in recent months is the apparent belief that the danger is on the Democratic Party's right flank: You can lose Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh and you really need to bring them in. But you seem to be arguing the opposite, that on this, you need to worry about losing the liberals.
We've not done this before. We've been in the background helping to make big votes and big legislation better because we can't say, 'Go our way or we'll vote with the Republicans.' We can't. We wouldn't. We don't have that privilege of saying we'll vote with the Republicans.
But this one, we have a line. There are 80 members. And we have drawn a line in the sand. And we're serious about it.
(Photo credit: Lynn Woolsey's congressional homepage.)
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