Health Care – We Won’t Back Down

I felt inspired and empowered as I walked away from Seattle’s Health Care for All rally Thursday night with Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down playing as the crowd streamed out of Westlake Park. On the way home, though, I got to thinking about news reports that the President will drop the public option, and his administration seems to expect the Democrats to just fall in line; and worrying “Will they back down?”

I don’t think our Rep., Jim McDermott, will back down, but what about the others?

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We had about 3000 people in Westlake Park, but as the blog Horse’s Ass reported, the Seattle Times didn’t report it.  I was there, though, trying to connect with my Amnesty International friends and regretting I hadn’t thought to exchange phone numbers with the newer ones so we could find each other.

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Amnesty International believes that health care is a human right, and is working on it as part of our new Demand Dignity campaign.

Here’s some video of the highlights of the rally from the Washington State Labor Council:

In addition to Rep. McDermott, and the Rev. Leslie Braxton, who mc’d the event, we heard from a father struggling to get health care for his sick son because of the “pre-existing” condition clause, and from Jody Hall, the owner of Cupcake Royale on the struggles of a small business owner to keep her employees covered under a system that charges more and gives less in benefits for small businesses. Jody said that 25 cents of every cupcake go to employee health care, which is a larger expense than the combined rent of all four Seattle locations of her business.

We also had the Backbone Campaign’s puppets, including Count Bleed ‘Ya Dry, with his bats from the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, taking blood through an IV from a seriously ailing American health system.

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So, speaking of backbone, how are we doing on making sure President Obama and the other Democrats get and keep one on this issue?

I believe President Obama and the Democratic majority we elected can get meaningful health care with a needed public option to keep down costs from the insurance companies, if they are willing to fight for it. 

What is interesting is that the polling data that the Washington Post reports was sent around in a memo to the congressional Democrats by Joel Benenson, the President’s pollster, show a wide support for health care reform:

–82% of Americans say that the U.S. health care system needs either fundamental changes (55%) or needs “to be rebuilt” (27%). (CBS, Aug. 31)

•A substantial majority of Americans believe that the problems in the country’s health care system will eventually affect most Americans if they are not addressed.

–65% of Americans believe that the health care system’s problems will eventually affect most Americans, while only 31% believe most Americans will continue to get good health care. (CNN, Aug. 31)

What is the problem, then?

–Only 31% say they “understand the health care reforms under consideration in Congress, while 67% say they find them confusing. (CBS, Aug. 31) 
–Indeed, even Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies found that 37% have no opinion yet on the President’s plan, while 25% support and 37% oppose. (POS, August 13)

However:

•When voters learn about the composition of the plan, support grows considerably.
–For instance, an NBC poll found that initially, only 36% said that the President’s health care plan is “a good idea” while 42% say it is a bad idea. (NBC, Aug. 17).
–However, 53% said they favored the plan after hearing a short description of it that included:
* Requirements on insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions;
* Requiring all but the smallest employers to provide health coverage or pay a percentage of their payroll to help fund coverage for the uninsured
* Tax credits to help families and individuals to help them afford coverage

This is why the President’s televised speech to Congress on Wednesday is so important, and frankly, why both Congressional Democrats and pro-health care organizations should be focusing as much on educating the public as on rallies to counteract the conservatives whipped into a frenzy by talk radio.

Will the President have the courage to include the public option as an important piece of the plan in his speech?  President Obama certainly pushed for the Presidency, and inspired many by doing so.  One of his former campaign staffers, Mike Elk, has started a petition, and asking former campaigners and others to sign it, holding the President to the promise he made election night (and their promise to hold him to his promise):

He said, “I promise you if everybody in this hall is willing to keep doing what you guys did over the last two years, then I am optimistic about America. I may make some mistakes, but you’ll set me right.”

Mr. President, we have not forgotten the promise we made that night. We are here to set you right.
There are rumors that you are considering dropping the public option, despite 77% of the American public and the majority of U.S. Senators supporting it. Sir, there is no way we can have real health care reform without a public option. Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition, bring down costs and serve the people.
If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry.

If the President is willing to take the stand, we are with him, as Mike Elk notes:

We are the most powerful grassroots army ever assembled in American history, and we want you to fight for a public option. We promise to fight with you every step of the way, just as we did during the campaign.
Mr. President, We are fired up and ready to go!
Are you ready to lead?

Bill Moyers has called for President Obama to stand up to the Republicans and insurance companies as well:

He understands President Obama’s wish for bi-partisanship, but recognizes with the current political climate, that just isn’t possible:

Poor Obama. He came to town preaching the religion of nice. But every time he bows politely, the harder the Republicans kick him.

No one’s ever conquered Washington politics by constantly saying “pretty please” to the guys trying to cut your throat. 

Moyers notes that:

As it is, we’re about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy — we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.

As with the former campaigners, Bill Moyers remembers the promises President Obama made during the campaign, and is calling on him to keep them:

Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy. When you speak to Congress next week, just come out and say it. We thought we heard you say during the campaign last year that you want a government run insurance plan alongside private insurance — mostly premium-based, with subsidies for low-and-moderate income people. Open to all individuals and employees who want to join and with everyone free to choose the doctors we want. We thought you said Uncle Sam would sign on as our tough, cost-minded negotiator standing up to the cartel of drug and insurance companies and Wall Street investors whose only interest is a company’s share price and profits.

This is important:

This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it’s life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter.

Fortunately, it looks like many of our Congressional leaders will stand their ground.  According to Politico:

Obama spoke by phone Friday with leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Caucus leaders expressed absolute commitment to the idea of a robust public option, and said they expect it to be part of any health care reform legislation,” the groups said in a statement. “The president listened, asked many questions, and suggested the dialogue should continue.”

It looks like the White House is leaning toward putting the public option back in, but still leaving room to waffle?

One top official gave this formulation: “He has consistently said that he thinks the public option is an important way to make sure there is both cost and competition control.  He has also consistently said that if someone can show him a better way or another way to get there, he’d be happy to look at it.  But he’s never committed to going another way.  He’s always said he’d be happy to look at any other proposal that gets to these goals, but he thinks this is probably the best better way to do it.”

I’d like to hear a more certain and committed statement than that on Wednesday, Mr. President.  You’ve showed you can fight and stand up for your principles during the election.  We are asking you now to stand your ground. 

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Official White House photo by Pete Souza

We are behind you, and there are a lot of us, even if newspapers like the Seattle Times don’t want to acknowledge it. Speak to the American public Wednesday and tell them the truth.  Give us hope for a health care system that really works, for all Americans, not the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

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