On a windy afternoon in Portland, the wind seems to have refilled the sails or at least the hopes of those advocating for substantial health care reform, locally and nationally.
The weekend before last it looked like the health care reform debate was all over but the face-saving. President Obana in his speech before a joint session of Congress had indicated that he could accept a bill without a public plan option, and shortly thereafter Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who only up until then had been insisting that a public plan option was needed for a bill to pass the House (never mind how strong), came out and lined up behind Obama's cave-in. It appeared that all that mattered to the president was that there be some bill rather than no bill.
Then Max Baucus published his draft bill from the Senate Finance Committee. It was so bad that it generated significant opposition from unexpected quarters. Representative Jan Schakowsky of illinois, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus went so far as to say the "the public option" was still alive because of the Baucus Bill.
Of couse pushback against the steady hollowing out of proposed reforms had been building anyway. Locally a "Big Insurance Makes Us Sick" rally and march planned for tomorrow, Tuesday September 22 in downtown Portland at lunchtime has been in the works for several weeks. What makes it interesting is that it's an "all-in" event involving both groups advocating single payer approaches, such as the Portland Jobs with Justice Healthcare Committee, and oublic option advocating groups including HCAN and some of that coalition's member groups including the Portland MoveOn Council. These groups are muting their debates for this event to focus on the destructive role of private insurance companies in people's lives and in the corruption of democracy in reform politics. But response to the idea suggests that the event may be benefiting from the backlash against Baucus.
Likewise the Portland Jobs with Justice Healthcare Committee's new single payer radio ad campaign on KPOJ AM 620 may benefit. The ads are intended as part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of Improved and Expanded Medicare for All, the arguments for it, and to expand outreach, organizing and mobilization. The choice to pursue them at this time was partly driven by the fact that to resolve one hang-up in committee, Speaker Pelosi promised New York Democrat Anthony Weiner a floor vote on an amendment to substitute the text of H.R. 676, the main single payer bill in Congress, for the text of H.R. 3200, and because one version of the H.R. 3200, as marked up by committee, contains an amendment by Congressman Dennis Kucinich that would modify ERISA restrictions to allow for state level or regional single payer systems.
The likelihood that the Weiner amendment would actually pass is vanishingly small. Yet the very fact that the Weiner amendment is unlikely to pass creates an argument that congresspeople should vote for it who say they are for an improved and expanded Medicare for all single payer approach in principle, but feel they must work for something that they think can pass. They don't have to do any work to get the vote on the floor, it's been done for them. They can vote for it to express their support in principle, and still vote for whatever version of H.R. 3200 emerges subsequently.
For the Kucinich amendment the prospects are somewhat better that it could survive into a final bill. In the first instance this is up to the Rules Committee, which must reconcile the varying committee mark-ups of H.R. 3200, which means in essence persuading key top leaders to keep it in. Work in Oregon on these two items by single payer advocates has been proceeding apace, but the pushback atmosphere created by Baucus' egregious effort can only help energize them.
The same applies to the barnstorming Mad as Hell Doctors road show, making 26 stops in less than 3 weeks, culminating at the White House. These mostly Oregon docs are bringing the message that doctors support a universal national health insurance system that gets the insurance companies out from between them and their patients, that supports their ethical views about the right of all to quality health care and the better outcomes based on health promotion, prevention, primary care and early stage chronic disease management, and that will relieve them of the monetary expenses and time costs of the billing and claims bureaucracy mandated by the hugely inefficient private insurance industry, in favor of public sector efficiencies amply demonstrated in practice: favorable response has been growing as the Mad as Hell Docs move onward to their final destination in Washington, D.C. on September 30.
At the national level, the Baucus Backlash manifests itself partly in criticism. For instance, Baucus managed to come out to the right of Republican Finance Committee member Olympia Snowe on subsidies. Oregon's own Bipartisan Ron Wyden, also on the committee, has offered to improve the bill, according to his lights. Speaker Pelosi was critical and again advocating for a public option (never mind how strong). There are enough similar reactions that even before holding mark-up hearings that Chairman Max has begun to to make it marginally more friendly to people and less so to the profits of his corporate donors -- albeit only marginally.
But it is not only in the insider Congressional politicking that has been affected by the pushback. The intellectual quality of the debate has been significantly raised in at least one quarter, as the Congressional Progressive Caucus put forward a detailed description of what they would consider a truly robust public option.
It's the kind of thing we needed back in March or April, along with a less detailed level of the principles involved, in politics to engage the public, and included full honest discussion of single payer. But the likelihood that any reform will pass this session that will change the crisis-producing dynamics of the current non-system is nearly as small as that of the Weiner amendment passing. The crisis therefore only will grow worse, and we will be revisiting health care reform quite soon. It is to be hoped that when we do everyone will recognize that the politics need to begin in the public, and not with what's supposedly "realistic" in Congressional inside baseball.
Disclaimer: I am a member of the Portland Jobs with Justice Healthcare Committee. The opinions expressed here are influenced by that fact but are mine, and are not meant to speak for the committee. For a period I belonged to the MoveOn Portland Council; while I quit the national organization over their internal practices, I remain friends with persons in the local group.