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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/8/09

The AFL-CIO and the Public Option Plan: A Big Line in the Sand

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co-authored by Eric Nelson and Ross McNamara

In the lead up to President Obama's health care session with Congress this Wednesday, the debate over the "public option" has reached an all time high. Appearing on Fox News, Senator Kent Conrad came out swinging, saying, "There are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option." In stark contrast, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded telling the Huffington Post a health care overhaul that did not include a public option wouldn't make it through the House because it "wouldn't have the votes." A block of at least 83 democrats in the house, representing the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have sent President Obama a letter demanding the White House not ignore their requests to provide needy Americans with a public health care option and have pledged to block any health care reform legislation that does not include a strong public option plan.

As the final lines in the sand are drawn, the only thing that is certain is that the Health Care Reform debate enters into its final innings. President Obama has been unwavering in his demands that a health care reform bill be passed this year. So the question in Washington doesn't appear to be whether or not the public option is the best solution to our country's insurance woes. Instead, the question appears to be whether Democrats have the backbone to stand up and vote for the plan their president has laid out.

Enter the AFL-CIO.

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The AFL-CIO - you remember them - the enormous federation of labor unions, over 11 million members, that generated enough swing and influence to put then Senator Obama over the top in his presidential bid. They're back. And they want the public option. They want it enough that if any Democrat votes against it, they'll pull their support and funding. According to CBS, in a September 1st meeting, the AFL-CIO "drew a line in the sand today, saying a health care reform bill must include three specific elements -- including a government-sponsored health insurance plan, or "public option" -- in order to win their support."

But, has this ultimatum arrived too late in the Health Care dialogue? The Democratic reservations over the bill have fueled the right wing fire that Obama's reform plan and the public option are not in our countries best interest. Already, the public option - in reality a program fairly similar to Medicare - has become synonymous with "Death Panels," "Socialism" and "Hitler." Not exactly the terms a politician wants to have beside his or her name.

And yet, despite all the finger pointing in Washington, a poll released in August by the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed that 83 percent of Americans back the creation of a public health plan that would compete with private plans. Eighty-three percent of Americans support the ideology behind the public option - even if the term itself now carries a frightening stigma.

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In fact, very few Democrats actually oppose the public option. Senators like Max Baucus and Ben Nelson - both vocally opposed to the option - are well within the minority. Yet, even their opposition to the plan seems to stem not from a belief that Obama's plan won't work, but rather that Obama's plan will work too well. Nelson's problem, he told CQ, is that the public plan would be too attractive and would hurt the private insurance plans.

Too attractive? If the problem is that the public option will be too good, then there shouldn't be a problem at all, right? Wrong. A quick look at the major donors to Max Baucus' campaign clear up any doubt as to why there are a couple democrats dragging their feet up the capital steps.

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That's right, 6 of the top 10 donors are companies within the health insurance industry. Supporting a plan that could force them to cut rates and compete in a non-monopolized market is a scary thing for a senator whose job depends on their dollars.

On the republican side, the reasons for opposing the plan are even more absurd. "We have the best health care system in the world," Republican Sen. Richard Shelby declared on "Fox News Sunday." "We need to expand it. We do not need to destroy it." While it's a safe bet Senator Shelby hasn't and won't see Michael Moore's "Sicko," - he should at least look at the studies the film quotes. Of the groups studying the world's health care systems, most studies rank the United States in the mid to low 30s. Nowhere near #1, as Shelby believes. The top spot is most often awarded to France or Italy - both with health care systems more akin to the public option, than to our current privatized way of doing things.

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So in the end, is this rising debate nothing more than a bunch of smoke and mirrors? Sixty to eighty percent of the American population (depending on the poll) supports the public option. Despite claims appearing on Fox News, only a minority of Democrats in Washington disapprove of the bill - and their motives for doing so are questionable at best. And with the Unions now gathering to prop up any such weak-kneed democrats, and Nancy Pelosi rallying the troops - it seems more than likely that even that small minority will soon be in favor of Obama's plan.

As President Obama's date with congress approaches, let's make one thing clear. The votes to pass health care reform are there. Any plan that a skeptic can call, "too effective," is, at the end of the day, too effective for even the most foolhardy senator to pass up. Especially with the AFL-CIO breathing down their necks.

If the Republicans want to threaten health care reform defeat in the Senate by means of a filibuster then make them do it for as many days as they can muster on national television. Let them explain to sixty Ś eighty percent of the American population come next November why they sided with the profits of the health insurance companies over the well being of the American populace.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt so famously stated to a group of labor leaders pushing for a bill to establish the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the 1930's, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." On September 1st, 2009 Richard Trumka, incoming presidnt of the AFL-CIO, decided to do just that and make Obama pass health care reform that contains a strong public option plan.


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Eric Nelson is freelance writer, an editor at OpEdNews, and a spiritual progressive from Minnesota who has become more politically active. The reasons for this should be obvious to most; rising poverty, a broken health care system, and a growing (more...)
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