Progressive Democrats take a stand on health care

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An amendment introduced by representative Anthony Weiner, which would have created national single payer, has been traded in for a vote on the House floor in September, as a part of the deal between liberal and conservative members of the Democratic Party. The case – in support of single payer – made by some Democrats during the mark-up echoed the speeches given at a rally, which took place in the Upper Senate Park on Thursday, July 30th. That same day a number of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a press conference on the Capitol Hill where they announced their intent to fight for a robust public option. The Real News spoke to David Swanson from Democrats.com who attended both the rally and the press conference. Produced by Ania Smolenskaia

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Story Transcript

GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Hi. I’m Geraldine Cahill with The Real News Network. This health-care story is part of a series we are doing to help Americans make better-informed decisions about health-care reform. But we can only do this work with your financial support. The economic crisis has hit us hard. Please become a member today so that we can continue bringing you stories like this.

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ANIA SMOLENSKAIA (VOICEOER), TRNN: The House Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a 1,000-page health-care bill with a 31 to 28 vote, fulfilling the speaker’s promise to get approval on the bill from all three House panels before leaving Washington for a five-week-long recess. An amendment proposed by Representative Anthony Wiener which would have created national single-payer was supported passionately by a number of members of the committee.

REP. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI), PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS MEMBER: I am one of the members of this committee who believes strongly that a single-payer health system is the best way to comprehensively and fairly reform our health-care system, and I am one of the many members who believe that health care ought to be a right for all, not simply a privilege enjoyed by those with means and access.

REP. MIKE DOYLE (D-PA): This is the best of both worlds. This retains a private delivery system that Americans want and have come to love, combined with the administration that doesn’t have a profit motive.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL), PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS MEMBER: The goal is to provide every American, finally, after so many decades, with an opportunity to have affordable access to health care. The goal is not to just support an insurance industry that has brought us to a point where we live sicker, die younger, and pay twice as much as any other country.

SMOLENSKAIA: The vote for the amendment, however, has been traded in for a vote on the House floor in September as a part of the deal between the liberal and conservative members of the Democratic Party.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA) ,CHAIRMAN, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: The speaker has said that she will allow this to be brought up on the House floor and debated and voted on.

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REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY): That is, while I gladly accept that offer, because I think there should be an alternative to what is going to be coming out of this, and I think that this is the appropriate one. And if that is the pledge, then I gladly, on behalf of my colleagues, ask Madam’s consent that the amendment be withdrawn and move to the�.

(UNIDENTIFIED): Objection. Mr. Chairman, I object.

WAXMAN: I know it’s not subject to unanimous consent. The gentleman withdraws�.

WEINER: It doesn’t require unanimous consent.

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), SPONSOR OF S. 703: What the health-care system is about today�.

SMOLENSKAIA: The case in support of single-payer made by some Democrats during the the markup echoed the speeches given at a rally which took place in the Upper Senate Park on Thursday, July 30.

SANDERS: The moral issue is is that health care is a right and not a commodity.

SMOLENSKAIA: Organized by Health Care Now, it commemorated the 44th anniversary of Medicare.

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), SPONSOR OF H.R. 676: There are millions and millions of people that can’t afford any healthcare at any cost. They’ve got a right to the same quality of health care as every member of the House of Representatives and every senator and every member [inaudible]

SMOLENSKAIA: The Real News spoke with David Swanson from Democrats.com, who attended the rally that day.

DAVID SWANSON, BLOGGER AND ACTIVIST: I was at a rally that happened over in Upper Senate Park with thousands of supporters of single-payer, and Barack Obama’s personal doctor, who’s for single-payer, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Congressman John Conyers, and doctors, and nurses, and experts, and victims. And I left early to go to this press conference on the House side, outdoors near the Capitol, where a half dozen members of the Progressive Caucus and the chairs of the Hispanic, black, and Asian caucuses were having a press conference. And a few of them managed to speak before a big crowd came marching over from this rally with all of their single-payer signs. Most of them respectfully got quiet as they approached the press conference, but they held up all their signs behind the Congress members. And so that was the setting for this press conference, at which Lynn Woolsey, a cochair of the Progressive Caucus, led it off, together with Congressman Grijalva and Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson, Mike Honda, and Nydia Vel�zquez. They essentially said, "We are going to vote no on any bill that does not contain a robust public option."

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D-CA), COCHAIR, PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: We have one major announcement today. We have a letter to the leadership and to the three committee chairs that will, during this break, pull the three committees together and all the bills together. We have 53 signatures on our letter, and I have a few to hand out to you, and you’ll know how strong and how committed we are. We’ve gathered here today to demand that the final health-care reform legislation has a robust public option.

SWANSON: Whatever that may mean, it means something better than what the Blue Dogs tried to negotiate, because they were saying, "We will not vote for that bill," and that was where they were taking a stand. And it’s so rare for progressives to take a stand that you have to almost stop and cheer. But, you know, many of the more active citizens who really want a serious solution want better, want to push for single-payer. And so I was at the press conference, and I asked whether they would fight to keep the language in the bill that would allow states to do single-payer should they choose. And the response I got was "Hell, yes, we’ll fight for that."

(UNIDENTIFIED): Well, absolutely, we’re going to fight to give the states the right to pursue single-payer. I mean, it’s an essential thing. And we believe that states are important laboratories for legislation that could lead the nation.

SWANSON: But one of the hecklers from outside the crowd shouted in, "Well, will you commit to voting no on any bill that doesn’t include that language, like you’re doing for the public option?" And the answer to that is clearly no, they won’t, unless there’s enough pressure that they change their minds. And there might be, because there are active campaigns in several states ready to do single-payer that are energized by this, and they’ve got a month to work with. It may be that we can build a state single-payer caucus in Congress. When the Labor and Education Committee voted out its bill, there was an amendment successfully attached by Congressman Dennis Kucinich that would make it easier for states to develop single-payer. And so there were state senators from California and Pennsylvania at rallies and press conferences on the Hill on Thursday urging that language not be stripped out, because they want to create single-payer in their states. And, really, for California�which is the size of Canada in terms of population�to do single-payer next year, all it needs is a Democratic governor, which it’s likely to have, and some help from the Congress. But we’re going to be looking at a period of weeks during which we probably have to ask our congress members to fight for, actually, a successful vote on single-payer, if we get it in the fall, to fight for a better public option, whatever those possibilities turn out to be, and to fight to keep that language in that would at least allow states to do better than whatever the federal government does.

DISCLAIMER:

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