There are a lot of actions that progressives can take to help progressive health care legislation become law. You can call members of Congress or the White House. You can attend town hall events. And, just as importantly, you can push back against the emerging elite Democratic opinion that the Congressional Progressive Caucus should drop its their threat to vote against health care legislation that does not include a robust public option.
If you have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, if you write letters to the editor, or even if you just talk to friends and family about politics, you need to help push back against this new line of elite opinion. Tell the Progressive Block to hold together. Explain to people why it is so important they hold together. Thank members of the Block for holding together. Please do this because, if we don't push back, then not only will the public option will die a swift death, but Progressives in Congress will have little to no voice in upcoming legislative fights.
First, some background. Sixty members of the House have signed a letter to Nancy Pelosi stating that they "simply cannot vote for" health care legislation that does not include a robust public option. Since 60 Progressives plus 178 Republicans represent a clear majority, this Progressive threat has, on numerous occasions, led Speaker Nancy Pelosi to state it is impossible to pass health care legislation through the House without a public option. This is the Progressive Block strategy on health care, which seeks to block the Democratic leadership from something they value highly (in this case, a health care bill) unless Progressives receive a major progressive concession in return (in this case, a robust public health care option).
The administration is clearly aware of this strategy, as Rahm Emanuel said last Wednesday (emphasis mine):
"We have heard from both chambers that the House sees a public plan as essential for the final product, and the Senate believes it cannot pass it as constructed and a co-op is what they can do," Mr. Emanuel said. "We are cognizant of that fact."
The House Rules committee would merge the three existing House health care bills, and in the process make the final product weaker than any of those three.
The Senate Finance committee would immediately come out with a bill even weaker than the one proposed by Kent Conrad.
The Senate HELP and Finance committee would merge their two bills into something even weaker than the Finance committee's bill.
The Senate would weaken that bill on the floor via amendments.
The House would weaken their bill on the floor via amendments.
When the House and Senate bills are merged in the conference committee, the bill would get even weaker still.
The only reason this has not happened already is because Progressives have indicated they might vote against health care legislation, rather than stating they would support said legislation no matter what form it takes. The result of this Progressive Block (and yes, the k is intentional) has been actual examples of leftward, strengthening movement in the legislative process on health care. For example, Senator Hagan was forced to do a 180 degree turn on the public option, rather than being able to strip it from the Senate HELP bill ala Colin Peterson. In the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman was forced to give back some of the compromises he made to Blue Dogs, instead of Blue Dogs on other committees tacking on even more demands.
While these are not monumental leftward shifts, it is monumental that there has been anything but right-ward slides in this process. In 2009, for all legislation without a Progressive Block making real demands, there has been only one direction the legislation has moved: backward. From the first proposal and drafting of the legislation, to the final defeat and / or passage of the legislation, all legislation without a Progressive Block has consistently grown weaker and less progressive.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act is a good example of this. The bill was first introduced as a "discussion draft" on March 31st. Lacking a Progressive Block drawing a line on the bill, the legislation has only moved in one direction since that time. (More in the extended entry).
The ACES move to Senate, where Senator Harkin takes up the bill in Agricultural Committee. Harkin announces that he not only wants to keep all of Peterson's changes, but that he wants to go even further.
This weakening, right-ward slide of the ACES will continue at every step of the process. It will get weaker in other Senate committees. It will get weaker when the Senate committee bills are merged. It will get weaker on the floor of the Senate. And it will get weaker when the House and Senate bills are merged in conference. At every step of the process, there will be more giveaways to polluters, lower renewable energy standards, weaker regulations and other changes that make the bill more friendly to corporate interests.
The reason this happened is because many Progressives announced (or at least made it clear in some way) from the start that they will vote for any climate change legislation, no matter what it includes. This was the case for members of Congress as well as many large green groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters. Since no lines were drawn, Progressives effectively removed themselves from the negotiating process entirely.
Here is a series of propositions outlining this pattern:
Group A has no demands, and will support Legislation X no matter what;
Group B has demands, and will support Legislation X only when those demands are met;
Group A considers Legislation X essential to pass;
In order to pass Legislation X at all costs, Group A gives Group B everything it wants.
Too often, Progressives find themselves as Group A, and Blue Dogs as Group B. No wonder Blue Dogs have more influence. The only outcome from such a scenario is that Group A (Progressives) will give in to all of the demands from Group B (Blue Dogs). This happened on the stimulus, the housing bill, and the Employee Free Choice Act just as much as it is still happening to the ACES.
It would have happened in health care too, were it not for the Progressive Block demanding a public option. If Progressives had just announced they would support any bill, then the public option would already be dead, and Progressives would have no voice in the health care negotiating process whatsoever.
The Progressive Block is the reason for the different direction of negotiations on health care, and the reason why there is still even a chance for a public option. With the White House clearly not drawing a line in the sand, we have to keep the Progressive Block together, or else the public option is dead, and the rightward slide will become unstoppable.
In fact, a lot more than the public option will end up dead in the bill if the Progressive Block folds. The compromises will continue, both on health care and all other legislation that moves through Congress in 2009-2010. If Progressives fold on this Block, they will never be able to credibly form another one on any piece of legislation. Given all the noise they made on the public option, who would believe their threats on anything anymore?
As such, we have to fight against the emerging meme of Paul Begala, President Clinton (and maybe even Paul Krugman) and other elite opinion makers in the Democratic Party urging the Progressive Block to fold. If you have any means of pushing back against this emerging line of thought--letters to the editor, blogs, tweets, comments, discussions with family and friends--please, please don't hesitate to do so. Countering the elite push for the Progressive Block to fold is just as important as any other action we can take on health cre right now. Without the Progressive Block, not only will the public option be dead, but all progressives will have no voice in legislative negotiations in Congress.