Leading progressives harshly criticized members of the Senate last week, saying they were holding up the promise of healthcare reform to millions of Americans.
Progressives not pleased
Stern, Dean decry watered-down Senate bill
Yet they differed in what approach to take after learning that the Senate would abandon key proposals championed by liberals.
Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, urged the Senate to vote quickly on its bill in its current form. He seemed hopeful that his group’s agenda could be heard in conference committee when the Senate and House resolve their two versions. The House passed a health reform bill on Nov. 7.
“We’re for putting the bill into conference,” Stern told reporters last week. “We don’t like the bill. It is what it is.”
But Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former governor of Vermont, took to the airwaves and newspaper op-ed pages saying the country would be better off if the bill died.
“I know health reform when I see it, and there isn’t much left in the Senate bill,” Dean wrote in the Washington Post on Dec. 17. “I reluctantly conclude that, as it stands, this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America.”
Additionally, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told his 11.5 million members that the Senate bill puts the interests of insurers ahead of patients, and pledged to work to fix the bill in these final days of negotiations.
Both Dean and Stern said there were some likable things in the Senate bill, including an expanded Medicaid program. But both expressed disappointment that a government-run insurance program and an expansion of Medicare to people ages 55 to 64 have been left out.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said last week he would actively oppose any bill that expanded the Medicare program to those under 65. And Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said that the compromise language over abortion isn’t enough to secure his vote on the whole bill.
In a letter to SEIU’s more than 2 million members posted on the group’s Web site on Dec. 17, Stern called out the president for his role in the healthcare reform debate. “President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign,” Stern wrote. “His call of ‘Yes we can’ was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself.”
Later, on a call with reporters, however, Stern praised the president. “We appreciate that President Obama has been unflinching in his commitment to get healthcare reform done,” he said. Stern expressed frustration with Senate leadership, who as of last week were failing to hold together the votes needed to pass the bill.
“We have a handful of senators who think their point of view is so essential that they can stop progress,” Stern said.
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