Sept. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Key Liberals Willing to Bargain

Some Progressives Avoiding Line-in-Sand Stance

Amid fresh signs that the White House is preparing to back a scaled-down health care overhaul that would only include a public insurance option as a fallback plan, several House liberals told Roll Call that they could support such a bill depending on how it was structured.

The “trigger” approach has been considered a deal-killer by liberals on and off Capitol Hill, and the willingness of some Congressional Progressive Caucus members to entertain it reflects a recognition that a bruising August recess has imperiled prospects for reform and redrawn expectations for what is possible.

“This is a way to get a bill,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “I believe it’s worth listening to because I want legislation that is going to, in some shape or form, expand coverage and bring down the cost of health care.”

Liberals stressed that the shift does not amount to an abandonment of their commitment to a “robust” public insurance option. They said they would only support a trigger if that approach guaranteed the same access, quality and affordability.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m so flexible that I’m willing to compromise away meaningful reform,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “But there may be a variety of ways of getting there than the one I originally formulated in my mind.”

The development could open a path forward for the White House, which has so far been vexed by the threat of a liberal rebellion in the House if it backs off a far-reaching public insurance option or a revolt by Senate moderates if it insists on one.

In advance of a make-or-break address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, President Barack Obama took the temperature of leading House liberals on a Friday conference call. Leaders of the Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sat in on the call and reiterated their support for a strong public insurance option, Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said. Obama did not make any definitive statements and asked for a follow-up meeting today or Wednesday.

“It sounded like he was trying to figure out how he could get something he could call a public option, regardless of what it is,” one staffer familiar with the call said.

White House officials have been exploring the possibility of a trigger in negotiations with Republican moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), a member of the gang of six on the Senate Finance Committee that has been struggling to forge a bipartisan agreement.

The Progressive Caucus has sent a series of letters warning the White House and House leaders to include a strong public insurance option as part of reform, including an Aug. 17 letter signed by 60 Members calling the public option “essential.” That’s more than enough to kill a health care overhaul given that no Republicans are likely to back it in the House.

Woolsey and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, sent Obama a letter Thursday indicating a compromise that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) struck with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats on his panel was “unacceptable” because it untied the plan from Medicare reimbursement rates.

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