Emanuel Cleaver has a dilemma. The Democratic Congressman is on record saying he won't support a health-care reform bill that doesn't include a government-financed plan to compete with private insurance.
But with headlines screaming that health-care reform is in trouble after a Republican was elected to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat last week (giving Republicans enough votes to kill legislation by staging a filibuster), House members such as Cleaver must decide whether they'll approve the Senate plan, which doesn't include the public option, just to get health-reform passed.
"I came to Congress as a single-payer proponent," Cleaver notes. "When I compromised to a 'public option,' I thought that was a big deal. Many progressives around the country felt the same way -- like, 'OK, we didn't get single payer but we got the public option.' Then, when the president said the public option's just a little sliver of health-care reform, I think that kind of created a tear in the fabric of the Democratic Party"
The party wasn't that unified to begin with. "We're the big-tent
party," Cleaver says. "We have progressives, the wild liberals, and
we've got the [moderate] Blue Dogs, and we've got single-issue people
as well. And I think unintentionally we irritated all of them."
he says, it was watching the Senate's handling of the legislation that
really hurt. He cites "the Nebraska nausea" -- Senate and White House
leaders making a special deal to buy support from that state's conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. "Frustrated progressives
were angry at what they believed to have been a betrayal by the
president and the Senate," Cleaver says.
So, how will he vote on the current legislation?
Democratic Caucus met last week," Cleaver told me on Friday. "The
general consensus seemed to be that we could not get a public option
through the Senate. Those of us who strongly support a public option --
I voted for it -- had to begin to think about whether they could
support something called health-care reform without it."
the weekend, he said, "I'll start talking to people, trying to figure
out from my supporters whether they would like to pursue, you know,
something that will be called health-care reform which won't be reform
but will be some kind of health bill. I'm loathe to call it reform
because it's not going to reform anything. If it doesn't generate
competition with insurance companies it's not reform. I'm struggling,
as are a lot of members now, over what we're going to say to the
speaker next week."
As one of his constituents, I say scrap it and demand real reform, Rev.