Donors Reward Dems Who Pushed Public Option

An online effort has quietly raised nearly $90,000 in the past few days to reward three freshman House Democrats for organizing an effort to put the public health insurance option back into the Senate health care debate.

The three representatives -- Chellie Pingree (Maine), Jared Polis (Colo.) and Alan Grayson (Fla.) -- have so far received more than $20,000 each, with the rest going to Howard Dean's Democracy for America group and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which organized the campaign and set up this website. The total itself may be less relevant than the fact that the cash has come in from more than 3,400 small donors, giving those members future access to an expanded fundraising base.

"It was easy to raise money for [the three members] because they did exactly what voters consistently say they want Democrats to do," said PCCC co-founder Stephanie Taylor. "They fought for bigger change instead of smaller change, and by fighting for the public option they showed they were willing to directly challenge corporate power on behalf of everyday people."

Grayson delivered a petition with tens of thousands of names to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling on him to re-insert the public option if he planned to make changes to the Senate bill using the majority-rule process known as budget reconciliation.

Pingree and Polis, meanwhile, circulated a letter calling on Reid to do the same. Some Democrats privately worried at the time that the letter would garner fewer than the 65 signatures that an earlier demand letter had pulled in and indicate fading support.

Instead, 117 members signed the letter, thanks in part to thousands of calls generated by PCCC, DFA and Credo Action to Democratic offices, urging them to sign. The action is an example of the kind of inside-outside coordination that progressives in Congress rarely engage in.

Still, it likely won't be enough to sway the Senate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on a conference call with bloggers this week. Instead, she said, the Senate is most likely going to conform to the deal that was struck between the White House, the Senate and the House before the Senate Democratic caucus lost its 60th vote.

"They have to do what they have to do to get whatever they need to move the process along," Pelosi said. "I totally respect the process that they are going forward with and I also respect my members' enthusiasm for initiatives that we felt strongly about in the House bill. I don't know that that enthusiasm was shared across the board in all three elements of the negotiation."

The enthusiasm for the freshman effort does show, at least, that there is a reward -- beyond public support -- for Democrats who push policies favored by the progressive base.

"The $60,000 we raised in 24 hours for these Healthcare Heroes is an example of how the Democratic base rewards bold leadership and those willing to fight for a public option," said DFA's political director Charles Chamberlain. "It's time for Washington insiders to wake up to the fact that following Joe Lieberman's lead will depress the Democratic base in 2010 and result in big losses, while following the lead of these Healthcare Heroes will fire up Obama voters who still want real change."