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Will the House Progressive Caucus Vote Against Health Reform? An Interview With Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

lynnpic.jpgThe 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.)

By Ezra Klein  |  June 12, 2009; 5:06 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform , Interviews  
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You go girl! No diluted regional coops. We want a robust public option, with volume discount bargaining power of a national scope, no money for advertising, dividends, or stock price supports, streamlined administrative costs, and decent health care for all.

Posted by: srw3 | June 12, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I hope they Progressive Caucus can pull it off. I am pretty pessimistic that a public plan will be part of the bill but we will see I guess.

Oh and how can 99.9% percent of 80 people be in support of a single-payer system? I'm not sure if that makes any sense.

Posted by: EricthePoliticalHack | June 12, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

If they actually stick with this, they'll get it.

Posted by: SteveCA1 | June 12, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

God Bless you, Rep. Lynn Woolsey! Wish I could vote for you!

Posted by: JERiv | June 12, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

I hate to say it because I'd like to see a united Democratic party in the house, but I applaud Rep. Woolsey. There's no reason why DINO Ben Nelson should get all the attention with his childish antics.

Posted by: csdiego | June 12, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

THANK YOU! God, what we really need is an antidote to the 'throw-in-the-towel-before-the-fight-starts' Dems in the Senate.

Please, if there's ONE thing you don't let them screw up - please let it be health care!!

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | June 12, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Well said, Rep. Wooley.

I agree with EricthePoliticalHack though. I can understand 99.9 percent support amongst 1,000 people. I'm not sure how you'd get it though with 80.

Posted by: JPRS | June 12, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

If rep. Wooley really thinks somehow the house can influence the senate and that the liberals holding out will work she is an idiot. The house does not force the senate to do anything legislation is won and lost in the senate and the house completely peripheral. For almost 20 years the house overwhelmingly passed civil rights legislation while the senate blocked it. Public outrage didnt work then and it wont work now. Republicans arent going kill health reform she is

Posted by: NMc1 | June 12, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Just a factual correction: Rep. Woolsey is from California, not Illinois.

Posted by: Eligius | June 12, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

I think this would be helpful in the senate but only in the extreme like no co ops or anything. When Lyndn johnson was trying to get the '57 civil rights bill through the liberals were the biggest obstacles. Although the act was pretty weak it was better than nothing which I think would be true now.

Posted by: NMc1 | June 12, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Of course single payer makes the most sense, but that's why it is being opposed. Even by Obama who must be getting a piece of the $46 million in insurance contributions.

Jack Lohman

Posted by: jlohman | June 14, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one disturbed by the idea that less than 1% of a 80 people is being treated separately from the rest? If this is accurate, I think the public deserve to know which body part if wavering on this issue, and if it is something crucial to voting, like a hand, or a leg, or something less consequential like an outer ear.

Posted by: albamus | June 14, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I think it would be unethical NOT to create a public option! With unemployment #'s still rising, and Tent Cities in places like Fresno, CA becoming more prevalent, we are facing a time where if there is NOT a public option, there will STILL be millions of people uninsured.
Lets face it. The insurance industry (health or otherwise) needs shaking up. After the experience with AIG, how can anyone be sure that private health insurance companies that back many private health plans, will not also fail or go bankrupt?
Insurance companies need to wake up and get real, and competition will force them keep their costs down, and stay competitive.
Anyone who claims that this Public Health option will force Private Health industry to go away is using fear to try to sway people. There is no assurance that they won't 'go away' in any case, as these days all sands are shifting beneath our feet and it is really hard to figure out what is solid enough to stand on and what is not!
If for any reason these companies do 'go away', then we will all the more desperately need a public option to step in and fill the void!

Posted by: jasi98 | June 14, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I hope the reporter I heard on Washington Week who described the draft coming out the HELP committee as "extremely liberal" is paying attention to the Progressive Caucus. If a bill with a strong public plan is passed, that would be the result of compromise, not an example of liberals running roughshod over conservatives.

Posted by: smith_chip | June 14, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Rep Woolsley. We simply cannot afford the waste of for profit insurance companies. If we cannot control or eliminate them, we should simply let conditions get worse. In 4 years they may be bad enough to get an efficient system.

Posted by: lensch | June 15, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

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