Left flexes muscles on healthcare reform

By Mike Soraghan
Posted: 08/20/09 09:23 AM [ET]
The fury from the left about President Barack Obama’s shift on a public option has raised the prospect of House liberals joining together to defeat a healthcare bill that doesn’t meet their standards.

Heading into the August recess, having just quelled a rebellion by centrist Blue Dog Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clearly banking that liberals wouldn’t dare take down a healthcare bill.   “Are progressives going to vote against universal, quality affordable healthcare for all Americans? No way,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters.

But when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that a public option is not “essential” and Obama called it a “sliver” of the effort, the backlash surprised skeptics who’d long figured they wouldn’t dare to defeat healthcare and embarrass their president.

“Before, I would have laughed at you,” said a Democratic lobbyist with ties to House leadership. “But they seem to be pretty far out there. This may be the issue where they draw a line in the sand.”

The liberals’ vehemence seems to have assured that there will be a public option in whatever the House votes on next month. The question is whether it will meet liberals’ demands that it be “robust,” and whether they would defeat the bill if it came back from the Senate without a public option.

On paper, liberals have the votes. The Congressional Progressive Caucus gathered the signatures of 60 members threatening to vote against a public plan they considered watered down in negotiations with centrist Blue Dog Democrats. If Republicans unite against the bill, 60 votes is more than enough to kill the bill.



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