On the eve of the Senate vote, Representative Louise Slaughter, chair of the House Rules Committee, became the latest progressive to join a growing faction of liberals who have called for Congress to the kill health-care reform bill—and the first prominent legislator to do so. “The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago,” Slaughter wrote in an op-ed published yesterday on CNN.com. “A conference report is unlikely to sufficiently bridge the gap between these two very different bills. It’s time that we draw the line of this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board.”
In her takedown of the Senate bill, Slaughter cited the legislation’s exclusion of a public option, restrictions on abortion, and the failure to repeal the anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies as some of her key reasons for turning against the reform effort. But though many of her liberal colleagues on the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) share such concerns, there’s no sign yet that the House liberals have a mass defection on their hands. CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee issued a statement today emphasizing their desire to support a “meaningful conference process” that would address their main problems with the legislation. The conference “needs to be strong and needs to include much of what the House bill included,” Woolsey told me this afternoon. “Just giving up on the process that won’t work for me.”
Slaughter’s defection does suggest that the netroots’ “kill the bill” movement is making some inroads with mainstream progressives. But though Woolsey didn’t openly criticize Slaughter’s revolt against the bill, her remarks yesterday—along with a similar statement from CPC co-chair Raul Grijalva—suggest that a mass revolt by House Progressives seems unlikely, at least for now. And though leaders like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the Senate bill “inadequate,” most major progressive groups refrained from airing their concerns, shifting their focus to the conference negotiations.
At this stage, “the bill is too big to fail for Democrats,” as Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now! told The Daily Beast. Yes, Senate moderates are already insisting that the bill will remain much the same, and it’s unclear how far the Democratic leadership will go to respond to the liberals’ demand if the threat of mass defections isn’t credible. But for the time being, most House progressives will try to ramp up the pressure from within.
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Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.