With the real possibility that a handful of lawmakers -- or even a
single vote -- in the House of Representatives could end up deciding
the fate of health care reform, advocates are suddenly targeting the
chamber's most progressive holdout.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio.) has firmly staked out his opposition
to health care reform's passage, citing the timidity of the legislative
language and, specifically, the unwillingness of lawmakers to seriously
consider a single payer system.
For months, leadership had assumed his position was unalterable. But with an "all hands on deck" whip operation now in progress, Kucinich is getting a burst of attention.
In a meeting at the White House on Thursday, President Obama directly addressed
the congressman's concerns by pointing out that the Senate bill does,
in fact, include single-payer language. His reference (which Kucinich
wrote down on paper) is a provision in the bill that Sen. Bernie Sander
(I-VT) introduced, which would allow states to use federal money to set
up a single payer system years down the road.
On Monday, Sanders told the Huffington Post that he had talked to Kucinich about the topic - albeit "a while back."
"He was coming from a slightly different angle on this," Sanders
said. "But we did talk to Dennis and I've talked to [Rep.] Anthony
Weiner and other" single-payer advocates.
Sanders said his provision is a significant step towards making the
bill more to Kucinich's liking, but he didn't sound optimistic that
either his personal lobbying or his legislative language would persuade
Kucinich in the end. "Dennis looks at the world the way he looks at the
world," Sanders said.
Under Sanders's proposal, states would have the option of using the
federal funding they receive for health care services (including the
new subsidies in the bill) on policies for providing universal care.
There are certain restrictions. For starters, a state could only use 90
percent of the federal funds it received, and it could only spend that
money on a universal system starting in 2017 - both stipulations of the
Congressional Budget Office. Sanders is still working on a
reconciliation fix to move the start date forward three years (perhaps
by allowing blocs of states to start before others) in addition to
increasing the funding threshold. But the goal, he stressed, remains
providing a foundation for single-payer to grow in practice and
"One state is finally going to do it, they are going to do it well, and it will catch on," he said.
Kucinich didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The
congressman has previously insisted that the law allowing insurance
companies to sue states that adopt single-payer systems must be
changed. And on this front, Sanders admits, his provision has a
Still, in the days ahead the pitch will be made to the congressman
and other skeptical progressives that this bill is far from
conservative. On Sunday, Chris Bower at OpenLeft put out a nine-point list
of concessions that liberal lawmakers were able to secure from the
party's more centrist members. Sanders, likewise, pointed to the money
going to prevention and wellness initiatives, as well as the expansion
of coverage through community health care centers, as uniquely
important progressive achievements.
"Look, I'm not here to tell you this is a great bill," the senator
said. "What I will tell you is we fought very hard for some things that
don't get a lot of attention but are very important."