September 4th, 2009
05:53 PM ET
13 years ago

House liberals tell Obama public option is 'essential'

[cnn-photo-caption image=
caption="Some of the most liberal members of the House say they won't vote for a bill without a government-run insurance option."]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - As Obama prepares to go before Congress and lay out more details about his stance on health reform, he held a conference call Friday with some of the most liberal members of the House, who say they won't vote for a bill without a government-run insurance option.

Two congresswomen on the call, which took place Friday afternoon, tell CNN that the president probed them about how entrenched they are, even asking them to define what they mean when they call for a "robust" public option.

"I think he would like to convince us that there is something short of that could lead to a public option that would satisfy us, and guess what? It doesn't," Rep. Lynne Woolsey, D-California, told CNN in a telephone interview after the conference call.

Woolsey, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, insisted that the president did not explicitly warn them that he may have to give up a so-called public option in order to pass a bill through the more moderate Senate, but it seemed he was laying the groundwork.

"He has to decide where that line has to be drawn and he knows we have to decide where the line can be drawn," said Woolsey.

The conference call included leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Another Democratic source familiar with the call said the president did made clear it will be hard to pass a public option out of Congress because of deep opposition from moderates, and talked about what's most important to him - market reforms that force more competition, lower costs for health care, and expanded coverage for the uninsured.

But both Woolsey and Rep Barbara Lee, D-California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that they told the president point blank that they do not believe a health care proposal without a government-run option is real reform.

"All of our caucuses are very unified about a robust public option, and that is essential in healthcare reform efforts," Lee told CNN in a separate phone interview after the conference call.

"Because the cost to those who have insurance, which is 85 percent of the public - they want to make sure that they keep their coverage that they have choice but that their premiums come down. And we communicated this very clearly to the president. The only way that that can happen for those are already insured is to have a robust public option, " she said.

Lee said she answered the president's question about what a robust option means by saying it should be crafted along the lines of Medicare for senior citizens.

Woolsey and Lee said the president invited them to the White House to continue the discussion on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, before his speech to Congress.

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. Moe, NY

    CNN what did you have to entitle this article "House liberals tell Obama public option is essential"???? Anyone with 1/2 a brain knows if there is no public option, then it will be a total failure...a win for republicans/conservatives, insurance lobbyists....a win for lies, hate and corporate america. A total loss for the uninsured in this country.

    September 4, 2009 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  2. Ernie in LA

    Obama needs two testicles and be a man and start leading. He goes on vacation when the US is falling apart. How can he golf or get his mind on anything else if he really cared about us? He is a joke and so is the company he keeps.

    September 4, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  3. Mike in MN

    I've even been hearing that some on the far left are saying if Obama does not push a bill with a public option and does not pull out of Afganistan, they will find a someone who will and challange him in the 2012 primary.
    Of course is he does that he might not get re-elected in 2012 anyway.
    Did not take long for the Democrats to turn on themselves.
    Fun to watch.
    Obama the uniter, that's funny. Well he has united the conservatives anyway, I'll have to give him some credit.

    September 4, 2009 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  4. Jon in CA

    "House Liberals tell Obama Public Option is essential"

    American Citizens tell Obama NO MORE Government Takeovers!!

    You decide Obama.... appease your socialist liberal cohorts and LOSE the Presidency....

    Or listen to the American People and offer "reform" NOT a Government Takeover – and possibly have a shot at re-election.

    REFORM is:
    – Interstate Competition
    – Tax-credits for non-employer paid premiums
    – Tort Reform
    – Extension of Medicaid for those deemed "uninsurable"

    September 4, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  5. Clay

    You're darn right a public option is essential. Anyting less will simply mean that the insurance lobbies and the GOP have spread enough money and lies to buy enough senators and congressmen to defeat what every thinking and caring individual in this country knows we need. All arguments to the contrary are based wholely on misinformation, prejudice and ignorance.

    September 4, 2009 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  6. CRob

    Im all for a public option under 1 condition. Those that vote for it are the ONLY ONES that pay for hit. Im sick and tired of the middle class getting stuck paying for all these entitlement programs.

    September 4, 2009 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  7. Wade


    The feds waste enough of my tax dollars.
    I will not have them waste even more of it on another poorly run government program.
    It's bad enough I'm forced to pay into SS and Medicare, which I know will be completely bankrupt by the time I'm old enough to even use it.

    Reform means fixing the current system.
    Fix it.
    Allow me to shop for insurance across state lines.
    Stop the insane lawsuits that force doctors into having outrageous malpractice insurance costs and forces them to run every test on the planet even if they are not needed.
    Stop hospitals from charging $10 for an aspirin.
    Stop insurance companies from dropping you without cause or denying you coverage for pre-existing conditions.

    A government option will not make any of these situations go away.
    It will only cost the tax payers even more money.


    September 4, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  8. abc123

    There are many reforms that could increase competition in the insurance market short of a "public option".

    September 4, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  9. dan

    I agree that a public option is a very good way of regulating the minimum coverage prices that insures offer. Without the public op. these insures could just come together again and agree on a much higher minimum coverage cost than is fair. I always worried why the new fed agency that this bill creates couldn't just set regulations that say minimum coverage must be non-profit and require that they offer them in order to be able to offer expanded coverage.

    September 4, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  10. Reagan was wrong

    Allright, it's official. Reading the comments on this and other blogs it's clear that the GOP has congealed into a small group that, no matter what's being discussed, they will talk about

    Death Panels
    Van Jones

    The GOP is now The American Stupid Party. I am as interested in their opinions as I am in those of the crazy guy who's always yelling at cars down by freeway.

    September 4, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  11. ran

    Yes. President Obama with the Democrats go it alone now. The GOP have no intention of voting for any bill.

    I say give us single payer non-profit universal health care.

    Then go on to energy and immigration again with out the GOP because they will not support or vote on any of these issues either.

    September 4, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  12. Turnabout is Fair Play

    Ernie in LA September 4th, 2009 6:32 pm ET

    Obama needs two testicles and be a man and start leading. He goes on vacation when the US is falling apart. How can he golf or get his mind on anything else if he really cared about us? He is a joke and so is the company he keeps.

    Dude, get off it, former president idiot went on a month long vacation TWO WEEKS after getting elected and I didn't hear fools like you spouting off about that. Give it a rest.

    September 4, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  13. Huh

    Boy, california has some weird poiliticians,especially the female ones who are infatuated with the communist dictator from cuba.Birds of a feather????

    September 4, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  14. ail in Riverside, CA

    Public Option = Choice. A public option is essential to the health reform bill. For those of you who don't want it, continue to send your hard earned money to the insurance companies.

    September 4, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  15. mike

    You want it? You pay for it. Not me.

    September 4, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  16. Neal Kaye

    Public Option? BS! It should, correctly, be called the "Government Option". Because that's what it's going to lead to, complete government takeover of Healthcare. And then we can wait for months (or years) for a cancer operation, just like our friends in Canada and the U.K. Won't that be fun?

    September 4, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. Ram

    Why are people blaming Republicans for the bill not getting through. Democrats have 59 out of 99 senators and 58.5% of house of representatives. Blame yourselves democrats for whatever is not included in the bill.

    September 4, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  18. Ed

    Representatives Woolsey and Lee are correct there needs to be some low cost alternative in the health care exchanges that will be set-up by most of the proposed legislation. In their view this needs to be a public option, but I am not convinced. One alternative would be a government subsidized co-op that would be run by a nonprofit public board (not government). This would require that any legislation place these co-ops at an even playing field with private insurance companies in negotiations with health care providers. This combined with other reforms limiting the excesses of health care insures, drug companies and hospitals will not only make health care costs go down, government will continue only to play an regulatory and advisory role for the health care that most people receive. This combined with cutting waste in Medicare and Medicaid (estimated at $200 to 300B) would further reduce tax payer costs maintaining the health care delivered by these essential government programs.

    I seems to me that there maybe some viable options to the "public option". If I am wrong then the Congressional Progressive Caucus has done a terrible job of getting the message out. This being said I hope members of these progressive caucuses realize that this maybe their opportunity to start reform going in the right direction and that unlike their conservative counterparts know the value of compromise in governance.

    September 4, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  19. Liz T, Tucson

    Single payer should be back on the table and should always have been there. Anything short of that is caving to right wing pressure from the start.

    September 4, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  20. Lisa P

    Jon in CA, you need to learn the difference between health care reform and an insurance industry lobbyist's wet dream. One significantly lowers costs and provides people real choices, the other just makes even more obscene profits for the usual suspects without any added responsibilities or expenses - we'll mandate coverage, support whatever arbitrary premiums the companies decide to charge with tax dollars (everybody's money!), dump the "uninsurables" on Medicare and then complain about how expensive government-run health care is. Oh, but we'll have tort reform so quacks aren't punished and their victims aren't compensated and we'll circumvent the current state-based regulatory system in favor of... no regulation at all! Reform or bald-faced money grab: guess which one your "plan" is?

    September 4, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |

    Democrats need to be flexible and not copy the "my way or the highway" approach that Republicans notoriously champion. We, as Americans, are all in this together. Our greatest threat, especially, given the condition we're in after Bush, is DIVISION. Pitting Americans against each other is the classic Republican ploy. Don't play into their hands.

    September 4, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  22. Deuce

    Hitler saw a purpose in destroying "the weak" in order to provide the proper space and purity for the strong.. Could this be Obama?

    September 4, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  23. annie s

    No public option – no reform. Just another bill that allows the corporate money grabbers to fatten their coffers at the expense of the American taxpayer. What a sad, sad day for those of us who actually care about our fellow man.

    September 4, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  24. Pat, CA

    I think some of you liberals are a bit confused about current "government" programs - that you "throw out there" as examples of "socialized" government programs already in existence that "work." And these are the programs you always like to cite:

    1. Many of you rail against Social Security recipients as some sort of pariahs who are "stealing" from you.
    2. Social Security is NOT an entitlement program for the general public. It is funded by Americans who have paid INTO this fund for several decades of labor.
    3. Medicare - this is paid for by Social Security recipients. A portion of their Social Security benefits are deducted each month to pay for Medicare. They can either go "straight" Medicare" or select a Medicare Advantage Plan that (because of group purchasing efficiencies) offers them greater benefits than straight Medicare.
    4. IF the Social Security/Medicare are "going broke," it is in great measure because government has been STEALING from this fund in order to payroll ancillary programs (i.e. general welfare programs - for those who have paid NOTHING into the Social Security fund).
    5. Highway and most infrastructure programs are funded by the states and the taxpayers of those states.
    6. Education is funded to a large extent by property taxes of individuals in each state
    7. The police department is also locally administered and funded – by the states.

    One last comment: Some of you are totally comfortable with the inevitable cuts in Social Security to the elderly that Obama's plan indisputably espouses (health care rationing WILL become a reality under his plan – no other option to cut costs – it exists in ALL universal health care programs around the world).


    Have you no shame in seeing their hard-earned benefits decimated - either through cuts in the Medicare Advantage programs - or in age-related rationing?

    What will you say to your mother or father? Will YOU pay for their care and take them in when they’re infirm?

    And what would you like to happen to you when YOU become elderly?

    September 4, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  25. Bill

    President Barack, you must heed your masters' voices. The liberal nuts, I mean.

    September 4, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
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