Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Liberals Wave the White Flag

‘Robust’ Public Option Dropped

For months, liberal House Democrats had vowed to bring down a bill that didn’t include what they called a “robust” public insurance option. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) just called their bluff — and they appear ready to fold.

The cratering resistance of liberals removes the gravest challenge to leaders as they prepare to rally support for a more moderate approach — one that allows the federal government to negotiate rates under the plan with health care providers instead of pegging them to Medicare. The stalemate on the issue had stymied the rollout of a final House package. But after a weeklong whip effort, Democratic leaders in the chamber have determined the robust plan falls far short of the support that it needs. They are planning a 10:30 a.m. press conference Thursday on the West Front of the Capitol to announce their bill and its estimated budget effect from the Congressional Budget Office.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, cautioned that her group has made no decisions about whether to support the more moderate approach pending a look at legislative language. But she echoed many others in her ranks when she signaled liberals are ready to claim victory on dragging the plan back from the dead and accept a compromise. “We will insist on making it as strong as it can possibly be,” she said, adding, “Give credit to the progressives and the robust public option group that have pulled this and pulled this and pulled this.”

Liberals for months have staked out a public plan tied to Medicare rates as their make-or-break priority in the health care debate. About 60 of them signed a letter over the summer pledging to vote down a bill that included anything less. They have argued that Medicare rates offer significant savings over negotiated rates — $85 billion more, according to the CBO — and provided the only real muscle to compete with private insurers.

Now, as leaders scramble to muster 218 votes for their health care overhaul, the question is how many liberals will actually balk and oppose a measure with negotiated rates — and how many moderates will climb aboard to help make up the difference. Leaders don’t know for sure: They only have firm whip counts on support for the liberal version. But Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), a close ally of Pelosi, expressed cautious optimism Wednesday. “We think we’ll have the votes,” he said.

That assessment was shared by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, though he said he wasn’t sure yet about his own vote.

Leaders of the Progressive Caucus and the three ethnic caucuses are scheduled to discuss the issue Thursday in a meeting with President Barack Obama. Woolsey and Grijalva suggested they would use the White House session to focus on end game and press the president to insert himself more forcefully into the debate in favor of a public insurance option.

Grijalva said he wants the president to pledge “that he will defend a public option, that he will continue to protect the most vulnerable people, and more importantly, no triggers, none of that stuff.”

“You still have a rather flaccid thing coming out of the Senate, and so we’re always negotiating down,” Grijalva said.

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