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Just before the congressional recess Progressive Democrats have come out with a statement that they will not vote for a bill unless it contains a robust public option. With the White House backing down on a public component, their statement will put to the test. Produced by Ania Smolenskaia

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ANIA SMOLENSKAIA, TRNN: On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN that a public option is not the essential element of a health-care reform.


August 16, 2009

JOHN KING, HOST, CNN’S STATE OF THE UNION: Among the most contentious points of the debate and something the president once described as critical is the so-called government or public option to compete with private insurance companies. But if you listen to the president yesterday, he seemed to think maybe it’s not so important.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This piece of the puzzle has had enormous focus, and the president continues to believe that it’s good to have consumer choice. What we don’t know is exactly what the Senate Finance Committee is likely to come up with. They’ve been more focused on a co-op, as opposed to a straight government-run program. And I think what’s important is choice and competition. And I’m convinced, at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those. But that is not the essential element.


SMOLENSKAIA: Obama himself has signaled his willingness to compromise yet again.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health-care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

SMOLENSKAIA: The Real News spoke with David Swanson, the Washington director of, about the role of the White House in the debate.

DAVID SWANSON, DEMOCRATS.COM: Obama is a candidate who took some $18 million, I think, from the health industry. We look at Senator Baucus and we talk about the corruption in the Senate and in the House from the health industry, from the health insurance companies, from the pharmaceutical companies, all of this money, and we oppose that to what’s coming from the White House, which is supposedly pure, noble intentions to get us all health care. And yet it’s the White House that has been telling the House and the Senate what to do, that told George Miller, who was the chairman of the committee, to vote against the amendment to allow states to do single-payer. The intentions of the White House are to please the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies, and, if at all possible, also to get us better health care and to please the American public, and it’s a very difficult thing to do both those at once. And we’ve been moving more and more away from pleasing people towards pleasing only the insurance companies.

SMOLENSKAIA: Just before the congressional recess, progressive Democrats have come out with a statement that they will not vote for a bill unless it contains a robust public option. With the White House backing down on a public component, their statement will be put to the test.

SWANSON: I think that what the leadership is hoping and the White House is hoping is that the progressives will cave as they always have before on other issues. There are going to be a number of attempts to give progressive members of Congress cover. They’re going to be allowed perhaps to vote for national single-payer, and then they’ll say, “Well, I voted for that. It failed. I’ve got to vote for this other thing now. I hope that’s okay with you.” They’re going to have a chance perhaps to vote for allowing states to do single-payer. And then they may get to vote on a bill with a public option in the first go round, and then it may come back after conference committee without it. Every indication thus far is that many progressive members of Congress, more than enough, will stand firm and vote no unless there’s a serious public option in there. And this would be unprecedented, but this is what it’s looking like we’re going to see, which may mean no bill at all.

SMOLENSKAIA: But the whole reason the administration is on the defensive, having to justify the legitimacy of a government-run plan and debunk the myths about the legislation, lies in how they have chosen to approach the issue.

SWANSON: The response from the right is exactly, exactly identical to what it would have been had the Democratic leadership or the White House proposed single-payer. This was perfectly predictable and predicted by myself and many others that you are going to get accused of crazy things�of trying to kill the elderly, of trying to deny people the right to see their doctors, and so forth�no matter what you did. You don’t put your bottom line on the table when you begin a negotiation; you put your ideal out there, and then you give yourself room to compromise. And it’s just a fundamental mistake. It’s bewildering that they would make this mistake, and yet this is the mistake that has been made. They did not go out there�and by “they” I mean the White House, the Democratic leadership, and many in the progressive, activist community�all of us together, many groups, many citizens, did not go out there and say, “We demand single-payer,” and then compromise from there. We went out there with our bottom line. And now we’re in a position of no room left to compromise. We have to either get what we’re demanding or oppose the bill.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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David Swanson's books include: War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012).  He is the host of  Talk Nation Radio. He has been a journalist, activist, organizer, educator, and agitator.  Swanson helped plan the nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington DC in 2011.  Swanson holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. He blogs at and and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization Swanson also works on the communications committee of Veterans For Peace, of which he is an associate (non-veteran) member. Swanson is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet.