Unions condemn Senate votes against health care ‘public option’


 A handful of U.S. Senators have blocked what a majority of Americans want – a public alternative to private, for-profit health insurance, prompting this one-word comment by the AFL-CIO: “Disgrace.” The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday voted down amendments by Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Charles Schumer to include a public option in health reform legislation passed by Congress. Bills passed by the House and other Senate committees already include such a measure.

Three Democrats – Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas – joined all the Republicans in opposing both amendments. Rockefeller said the lack of a public option amounts to putting profits first and people second.

Last week, a poll by the New York Times/CBS found 65 percent of those surveyed support having the choice of a public option. Schumer said a public option is crucial to provide competition to private insurers – who hold near monopolies in many communities – and keep down costs for everyone.

Tuesday actions make it more likely the Senate will approve a health bill without a public option. However, Democrat Tom Harkin, who replaced the late Edward Kennedy as chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, believes passage is still possible.

Quoted in the Iowa Independent, he said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should include the public plan when the chamber begins to merge the proposals offered by the Harkin-chaired committee and the Finance Committee.

“Those in the minority can offer amendments to take it out, and then we’ll see where the votes are,” Harkin said. Any bill passed by the Senate must be reconciled with legislation from the House before going to President Obama for his signature.

In the meantime, progressive organizations are mobilizing to hold Democrats accountable for their votes. A new commercial by the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and Democracy for America targets Finance Committee Chairman Baucus.

It features a young, uninsured father who faces more than $100,000 in medical bills because of a congenital heart defect.

“Senator Baucus, when you take millions of dollars from health and insurance interests that oppose reform and oppose giving families like mine the choice of a public option, I have to ask: whose side are you on?” asks Bing Perrine of Billings, Mont.