House Progressives To Keep Fighting
Despite enormous pressure against them and few institutional allies, the House Progressive Caucus will keep fighting for a public option.
Next week will be gut-check time for the bloc of progressives standing in opposition to any bill that doesn't include a public health insurance option.
The leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus plans a "whip count" for early in the week to gauge the strength of their coalition, caucus members tell the Huffington Post. The whip team will also approach members of the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Caucuses.
Democrats hold 256 seats in Congress and need 218 to pass a bill, meaning 39 progressives, voting together, could tank the legislation, assuming all Republicans vote nay.
The whip count will send a message to to the administration, said CPC co-chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.): "Don't cut deals with some elements of our party or with some elements of the Republican Party without including the progressives in that discussion," he suggested. "So we're going to count our votes, see how many we have and that's the number we're going to indicate to both the leadership and the administration."
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a member of CPC leadership, estimates that eighty to 100 members will make the pledge. The progressive caucus met on Thursday, following the president's speech, and members repeated their commitment to seeing the public option included in the bill, said Ellison.
Grijalva guessed the whip count would be lower than Ellison's estimate. "We need firm votes," he said.
I agree with Grijalva, the final number will be lower. However, there will be a number of conservative Democrats in states like Alabama and Idaho and Mississippi who won't vote for any kind of health care bill, because they're basically Republicans. So I would say that if progressives can find somewhere between 25-30 members to stand firm, they'll be able to block anything. They got 32 votes against the Afghan war, so it's not impossible.
While Senate moderates and, in all likelihood, the Administration are pushing hard for a trigger, Obama's own rhetoric in defending the public option works against him here. He acknowledged in his Wednesday speech that his conception of a public option would bring some choice but would be small, only bring in 10 million people tops, wouldn't use Medicare bargaining rates, and is only a small piece of overall reform. In that case, moderates should be able to live with it, since there's so much else in the bill they seek. But of course, that's never how the game is played in Washington.
However this turns out, that vaunted unity in the Democratic caucus doesn't seem to be there completely. And that's actually a good thing. There should be a range of opinions in the caucus, and those debates can work themselves out. If one side is constantly made to knuckle under, it doesn't actually allow for any ideological variance, and doesn't give much of a reason for that side, which reflects the Democratic base, to stay in the Party.