How in the world did the freshman senator from North Carolina wind up as the key figure in the health care debate? How can one lone moderate Democrat on a committee of liberal Democrats sink the public option?
Fact is, Kay Hagan alone won’t sink the public option. Kay Hagan alone won’t water down the public option. Somebody floated that idea and like a bunch of Pavlov’s dogs we jumped on it.
Let’s take a look at the reality of the situation so we can better understand what’s going on. It may help us lobby our senator more effectively.
First, let me make it clear we need to continue flooding the good senator’s office with phone calls and emails. We are her most important lobbyists. The pay might stink, but if we work hard enough the benefits alone will be worth the effort.
Our lobbying efforts need to be more honest and based on facts, not hyperbole. Being rude to staffers, calling Kay names and claiming she’s no better than a Republican isn’t going to get us anywhere. It marginalizes our cause and quite frankly makes us look silly.
Five committees are crafting health care legislation
There are five Congressional committees involved in crafting the health care legislation. Three are House committees and two are Senate committees. Why are we only concentrating on the HELP committee and Kay Hagan? The short answer is, it’s the only committee in markup right now.
As mentioned above, Senator Hagan is the lone moderate Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, or HELP committee. Democrats outnumber republicans 12 to 10 on the committee. If Senator Ted Kennedy comes to Washington for the vote, as he has done in the past, Kay’s vote on the committee is no longer a swing vote. In other words, her vote keeps them from having to call in Uncle Teddy but it doesn’t mean she gets to single-handedly craft the legislation to her liking.
Why all the fuss? Why can’t Senator Kennedy drop in for the vote after the rest of the liberals on the team have put together the most beautiful public option imaginable and to heck with Kay Hagan? Why can’t it be that simple?
The real stumbling block for the public option isn’t in the HELP committee. It’s in the Finance committee and they won’t start their markup until after the July 4th recess. The Senate Finance committee has 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. With that margin you would think we would be fine. The problem is there are three members of the moderate Democrats working group and one, Blanche Lincoln, has already come out in favor of the watered down co-op plan.
There are also some fundamental differences between the two committees. From The Shriver Brief:
On the Finance side, Chairman Baucus and Senator Grassley (the highest-ranking Republican) are committed to bipartisan reform, and the committee’s recently released report outlines proposals that may not be as aggressive as some advocates would prefer. The public plan option (guaranteeing a government-run plan as an affordable option for all Americans, at all times) is mentioned but not required in the outline, while many advocates are convinced such a plan is necessary to keep private insurance honest and efficient. And there’s not a lot of talk about protecting low-income consumers from big out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and premiums. On the other hand, Senator Kennedy’s plan will likely include stronger safety-net provisions and the requirement of a public plan, along with a requirement that all employers either offer their employees insurance or pay into funds that help cover the uninsured.
With their earlier markup, the HELP committee is, in effect, taking the lead on the legislation that comes out of the senate so it needs to be as strong as possible. Once both committees are finished with markup, the two bills will be merged. We need the language on the public option from the HELP committee to be as strong as possible so, once it is watered down by the Finance committee, we still get what we need.
That’s why all the fuss. That’s why we’re calling Kay Hagan. She needs to know that we don’t favor the watered down version that will come out of Finance.
They aren’t Republican talking points.
Some here have criticized Senator Hagan for saying she wants to make sure the insurance industry isn’t destabilized or that people don’t lose strong private plans after employers drop their health care coverage to save money. These aren’t Republican talking points. They are real and valid concerns.
The last thing we need right now are insurance companies going into a financial nosedive. We can’t afford to bail them out and the public option that will be written will not be written to take on the numbers of the uninsured that would result from a collapse of the insurance industry.
Right, right, I know…the insurance industry is too big to fail. Yeah. I’ve heard that one before.
We also don’t want employers who provide strong health care benefits to discontinue their plans simply to save a few bucks.
Anyone with a chronic or terminal illness is not going to be excited at the prospect of having their medical care disrupted if their employer or spouse’s employer decides to cancel their insurance.
Anyone who tells you that’s not how the public plan is written is lying to you. The fact is the legislation hit committee with that section left BLANK. Nothing. Nada. Not a word. The HELP committee is crafting it’s own language from scratch. Everything needs to be considered. We saw what happened with TARP when we rushed to solve a problem and didn’t pay attention to details. All of a sudden our tax dollars were being used to pay out millions in bonuses to the very people who created the need for the bailout in the first place.
Senator Hagan’s concerns are valid, but they should not prevent the committee from writing a healthy public option into the legislation.
So, what’s next?
First we don’t stop our lobbying efforts with Senator Hagan. They may very well be crafting the language today. We don’t stop lobbying Senator Hagan until the merged legislation looks like we want it to look. We also should hound Senator Richard Burr. Why? Well, Kay shouldn’t have all the fun, right? Why should Burr and his staff be allowed to sit around and twiddle their thumbs? If the poll numbers we are seeing are true, some Republicans support a public option and most unaffiliated voters support it as well. Just remind him he is up for re-election and people still don’t like him in North Carolina.
The Finance committee starts its markup after they return from the July 4th recess. Neither North Carolina Senator sits on that committee. You’re welcome to call the senators on that committee and you should contact anyone you know who lives in their respective states to have them lobby their senators. The three who are members of the moderate Dem’s working group are Blanche Lincoln, Bill Nelson and Tom Carper.
An interesting side note is that Jeff Bingaman is on both the HELP and the Finance committees. He was initially identified as someone standing in the way of the public option, but Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake and Campaign Silo stilled those rumors.
The three committees from the House are producing one piece of legislation instead of working on it separately. That is good news for us since the representatives from our state taking part are some of our most “beloved” Republicans. The three committees are Energy and Commerce and our rep is Sue Myrick, Education and Labor and our rep is Virginia Foxx and finally Ways and Means with Bob Etheridge representing us on that committee.
I hope for a very strong public option to wind up in the language coming from the House, but we still need to call our representatives. The House isn’t expected to propose its bill until at least mid July. We can probably wait until after July 6, to contact everyone except Myrick, Foxx and Etheridge. They need emails letting them know we favor a strong public option.
With a strong public option coming out of the House and a slightly weaker, but still respectable public option coming out of the Senate we may very well wind up with a health care plan that works
**I interviewed a key aide to Senator Hagan and spoke with Jason Rosenbaum with HCAN (Health Care for America Now) in writing this post.
If you get a chance please visit HCAN's site. They are doing amazing work. There are pictures from yesterday's rally in Washington. The best part of their site is where they take the process step by step. Jason said this part of the site was started back in January. Talk about thinking ahead.