After days of watching the Blue Dog Democrats make loud noises, hold up legislation, and win compromises in their favor, progressive Democrats on Thursday decided to do some muscle flexing of their own. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), along with the leadership of the House's three minority caucuses, blasted the compromises made to appease the Blue Dogs. They also delivered a letter, signed by 53 House Democrats, that they would reject any bill that did not include a robust public payer option,
"We're going to fight this with every bit of strength that we have," said Congressional Black Caucus chair Barbara Lee, declaring that the House's progressive caucuses "speak with one voice." According to the letter, a robust public plan must have "reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates--not negotiated rates." (Such negotiated rates were a key sop to the Blue Dogs.) The letter's supporters also opposed the reduced subsidies to low- and middle-income families and the higher mandate for states to pay for Medicare reimbursements.
Altogether, CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey affirmed that they intended to draw a line in the sand: "Many of us were for single-payer system standing up here today, but we have compromised. We have rallied because we want a plan with a meaningful public option, and we can compromise no more." Said Rep. Paul Grijalva, "We're not here to divide or embarrass our party. We are here to remind our party that as Democrats we have some basic values--a shared responsibility we have for each other."
Not everybody at the event was on the same page. As Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman Nydia Velazquez stepped up to speak, a few activists--about a hundred of whom had gathered nearby for a rally--interrupted her, drowning out her words with cries of "single-payer now!" Though they were repeatedly shushed by Congressional aides, many of the activists continued to interrupt the press conference--even shouting over a question from a FireDogLake blogger. When one of the caucus members called Dennis Kucinich up to the podium--he had signed the public-option letter and spoken earlier at the single-payer rally--he was nowhere to be found.
As it happens, some of the Progressive Caucus members mentioned an additional proposal that might advance the single-payer cause: Strengthening the ability of individual states to implement a single-payer plan on their own. It wasn't clear how many, if any, of the single-payer activists were listening.
Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.