By John Sparks
This morning, in spite of strong support from health care advocates like Public Citizen, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) agreed to withdraw his single-payer health care amendment from consideration as the House approaches a floor vote on the major health care package supported by the Democratic leadership and President Obama.
This news may not surprise many who believed single-payer to be dead on arrival in today’s healthcare reform debate. But even political insiders were stunned by the resurrection of the possibility of a single-payer vote. Over the past week, activists across the country and the coalition of pro-single-payer organizations in Washington got behind Weiner’s campaign to offer an amendment and forced the leadership to seriously reconsider a floor vote.
Weiner acknowledged that last-minute developments caused him to make the difficult decision to withdraw the proposal. The chief reasons stemmed from pressure on the leadership from some members to include other amendments, such as further restrictions on coverage for abortion and undocumented immigrants. Also, it appears that some House members with tough re-election campaigns ahead feared that a forced vote on single payer would hurt them as they try to balance constituent pressures for various reform approaches. But ultimately, the greatest concern was that a vote on a single-payer amendment might undermine the carefully cobbled support for the compromise reform bill.
But wait, there is still another single-payer possibility in play.
An amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to allow states to set up their own single-payer systems could still make it into the health care package. The amendment was approved in an earlier committee version of the health care bill, but was stripped out of the final compromise going to the floor. Public Citizen and other organizations continue to support restoration of the Kucinich to the final bill.
Today, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman wrote to Speaker Pelosi:
States, however, may wish to choose a different course, and to implement single payer. There is no legitimate reason why they should be denied the opportunity to adopt good public health and good fiscal policy. The Kucinich amendment aims to provide the opportunity, by waiving certain ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] requirements that impede state single-payer action. We strongly urge you include the Kucinich amendment in the manager’s amendment.
Also, we’ll stand behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) when he offers his single-payer proposal in the Senate.
But with regard to Weiner’s fight for Medicare-for-all, Speaker Pelosi had this to say:
While single payer, like other popular proposals, is not included in the consensus bill we will vote on this week, Congressman Weiner has been a tireless and effective advocate for progress on health care.
We couldn’t agree more.
John Sparks is a health care lobbyist for Public Citizen.