Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 14th, 2009
Public option rally, Sunday, September 13, 2009, north of the Capitol.
Organized by “Americans United for Health Care and Insurance Reform“
I joined about a thousand other people from around the country for a rally near the Capitol Building on Sunday. I was impressed with how energized people seemed to be, at least compared to my own somewhat glum assessment of the situation after Obama’s speech last week. The slideshow above shows a sampling of the signs on display; my favorite was a young man whose signs bowdlerized biblical verses like Matthew 6:26 to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not pay taxes yet your Lord feeds them. … They must be SOCIALISTS.”
It was a reminder that optimism and humor beat pessimism when you want people on your side. So maybe my fellow demonstrators had it right when they cheered speakers’ mentions of Obama’s speech; while I felt Obama artfully threw the “public option” under the bus, maybe I’m wrong about that after all, and what good does it do me if I’m right?
The rally was a true grass roots effort, bringing people from all over the country. A woman from Asheville, North Carolina told the terrible story of her son’s death from colon cancer — and from the insurance companies refusal to pay for needed tests and treatments. Another woman from Michigan told about holding down four jobs and not seeking medical help for an infected jaw — for four years. A doctor from Texas told about how ashamed she was when an injured patient’s first reaction after regaining consciousness on respiratory support was to panic — and finally explain why by writing out the message “I can’t pay for this.” These people came a long way to share their stories; they’re not giving up, and so neither will I.
Some of the recent political news isn’t great — e.g., Senator Harkin (Kennedy’s replacement for the HELP Committee saying dropping the “public option” isn’t a dealbreaker, Senator Snowe saying she’ll vote against it, Obama not meeting with progressive Congressmen and women. But at least one analyst thinks it’s too early to count out the “public option”. Writing in the Huffington Post, author and political consultant Robert Creamer points out that (1) it’s the push for a bipartisan deal that seems to be fading, (2) four of five congressional committees have reported out a “public option” in their bills, (3) Obama’s support for the idea matters, as does his support for holding down costs — and the Massachusetts model lacking a public option is seeing rising costs, and (4) likely 2010 voters favor a public option by 62 to 28 percent. I’d take issue with Creamer’s description of HR 3200 as a “strong” public option, but that’s beside his point, which is simply that it ain’t dead yet.
Congressional progressives like Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva don’t seem to be throwing in the towel, either, and are conducting a “whip count” to gauge the strength of their position that any reform must include a public option. Ellison thinks 80 to 100 representatives will pledge to oppose any legislation that doesn’t include a “public option”; Grijalva thinks that’s a little high, and told the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim the whip count will “send a message to the administration: 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.” That kind of “deal cutting” formulation may or may not be a good sign, but obviously the higher the count the more insistent he and his allies can be.
Locally, Donna Edwards is a co-sponsor of HR 676 (Conyers single payer bill) and is among those insisting on a public option. Meanwhile, my own representative Chris Van Hollen has been MIA despite pledging support for a single payer bill in last year’s election — leading Gordon Clark to ask “During this battle for health care, where in the world is Chris Van Hollen?” It would be good if he got off the fence on this issue, at least.