Calling Out the House Progressive Caucus: Are You Men and Women, or Are You Mice?

Yeah, that means you Weiner, and you Grayson, and you Schakowsky, and you Grijalva and you Woolsey, and all the rest of you in the House Progressive Caucus (I think there were at least 60) who signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi last summer promising to vote against any health reform bill that did not contain a "robust" public option including, at a minimum, Medicare plus 5% pricing.

Were you serious or were you just bluffing? Because if you were just bluffing, you've done some serious damage to your credibility. When people get caught bluffing, no one believes them the next time they make a promise.

If you break your pledge and vote for a health reform bill without this minimally robust version of the public option, you've ensured your own political impotence, and more critically, ensured that even with a Democratic Congressional majority, all "reform" -- whether in health care, financial regulation, climate change, Afghanistan, or any other issue -- will be limited by what's acceptable to your Blue Dog colleagues and their corporate contributors.

In addition to betraying the hopes of millions of people who worked their hearts out to elect Barack Obama and a Democratic majority, you will help suppress Democratic turnout, by demobilizing the Democratic base, and enable big Republican gains in 2010 and 2012, just as happened in 1994.

It may be that right now you're 10-12 votes short of the 213 needed to pass a health reform bill with a Medicare plus 5% public option in the House. In that case, it's still better that the bill be defeated the first time it comes to the floor, or that Speaker Pelosi delays a vote.

First of all, passing a health care bill which mandates that all Americans must buy private health insurance or face a stiff fine -- which doesn't include a public option strong enough to put downward pressure on premiums -- would be a disaster for Democrats when voters eventually catch on to reality that "health care reform" actually means they'll be forced to pay higher premiums or be fined by the government. Secondly, the White House thinks it needs a "win" on health care. Holding strong on your threat to vote down a health care bill that doesn't include a "robust" public option will force the White House to twist enough Blue Dog arms to round up the extra 10-12 votes. If the White House can't pull that off, then it's probably better for Democrats that this health care bill be defeated and you come back next year and try to pass something better. Thirdly, and most importantly, following through on your threat to block a weak health reform bill will give the Progressive caucus real power with which the White House and Blue Dogs will have to reckon, and will impact what is achievable in other important areas like climate change and financial regulation.

While you're at it, insist that Speaker Pelosi restore the Kucinich Amendment, which removes impediments from states trying to implement their own single payer plans. Many of you have told your constituents that you're ideally for single payer and are only supporting a "robust" public option as a "pragmatic" alternative that can be passed now. If a public option makes it through the Senate, it's likely to include a state "opt out". The least you can do, in exchange, is insist that the legislation include a state "opt in" for single payer. That, alone, might make up for many of the corporate-friendly compromises already incorporated into health care "reform".

In many of the states you represent -- including California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania -- there are vibrant movements among your constituents to pass state single payer systems. In fact, in my State of California, single payer has passed the legislature twice, only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger. If California can elect a Democratic Governor in 2010, it could become the first state to enact single payer, much as Sasckatchewan first enacted single payer in Canada, and then was so successful that it was adopted by the rest of the country. Incorporating the Kucinich amendment will provide an outlet when, in a few years, health care costs continue to escalate and remain unaffordable for many American individuals and businesses, even if health care "reform" is implemented.

Many of you have repeatedly gone on television to tout your support for a "robust" public option, using it to increase your "street cred" in your safe Democratic districts.

If you now go back on your pledge to vote against health care "reform" without a "robust" pubic option, you will demoralize your base, and your word will never be trusted again, either by your supporters, the White House, or your adversaries among Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans.