Health Care Reform: Liberal Fury Rears Its Head . . . And Will Likely Amount To Nothing

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 30, 2009

As expected. The White House and the Congressional Democratic leadership have a problem:

Liberals, Hispanics and African-American members — Pelosi’s most loyal base of support — are feeling betrayed after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reached an agreement with four of seven Blue Dogs on his committee who had been bottling up the bill over concerns about cost.

The compromise, which still must be reconciled with competing House and Senate versions, would significantly weaken the public option favored by liberals by delinking reimbursement rates to Medicare.

“Waxman made a deal that is unacceptable,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of about 10 progressives who met repeatedly with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday.

“We signed a pledge to reject any plan that doesn’t include a robust public option, and this plan doesn’t have a robust public option,” he added.

By sundown Wednesday, the outcry from the left had become so loud that Waxman was forced to scrap a scheduled markup of the compromise measure. He rescheduled the meeting for Thursday morning and convened a mass question-and-answer session for a deeply divided Democratic Caucus — a meeting that is expected to be extremely contentious.

Two months ago, most of the 80-plus members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus signed a pledge that they would oppose any health care bill that didn’t contain a bona fide public option that would compete with private insurers.

On Wednesday, they seemed willing to stick to their promise.

CPC Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) emerged from her meeting with Pelosi to tell reporters that the Blue Dog deal needed to be “much stronger to get our support.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) predicted that House liberals, who believe they have compromised away several core issues to further President Barack Obama’s agenda, might finally buck leadership if they are force-fed a weakened public option.

“I don’t think it would pass the House — I wouldn’t vote for it,” Frank, a CPC member, told POLITICO.

He answered “yes” emphatically when asked if progressives were willing to delay the entire process as the Blue Dogs have done.

I wondered which side Obama would take; that of the liberals, or that of the Blue Dogs and the Congressional Democratic leadership. It seems like he is opting for the latter side. Consider what the President has to say about the compromise reached with the Blue Dogs, which might use non-profit health care cooperatives in place of the so-called public option, as a means of competing with the private sector:

In an interview with Time magazine published Wednesday, President Barack Obama suggested he might consider health insurance “co-ops” to be the public insurance option that he has long sought, but that has run into resistance on Capitol Hill. Asked whether co-ops might fit his definition of public plan, Obama said, “Well, I think in theory you can imagine a co-operative meeting that definition.”

Them’s fighting words to liberal Democrats, who have already forced Henry Waxman to postpone a markup of health care legislation before his committee. And the liberals are targeting Max Baucus as well:

In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels.

Baucus, who is more conservative than most of the Democratic Conference, has frustrated many of his liberal colleagues by negotiating for weeks with Republicans over healthcare reform without producing a bill or even much detail about the policies he is considering.

“Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “If the ‘no’s win, [the chairman’s] out.

“I’ve heard it talked about before,” he added.

All of this is nice and scary, I am sure, but at the end of the day, it appears that official Washington is moving away from the liberal vision of health care reform. Whatever the threats that are issued against people like Max Baucus, if the liberal vision is not, indeed, realized, then all of the threats in the world won’t hide the impotence of the liberals.

Relatedly, remember how everyone was talking and writing about the current age supposedly being a “liberal moment”?

They don’t do that anymore.

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