Kucinich: 'Will we stand for the people or the insurance companies?'
As evidence mounts that the public option faces an uphill battle in the Senate, its supporters are drawing a line in the sand and saying the Senate should not pass a watered-down health reform bill for the sake of drawing 60 votes.
"The mere fact that there's a bill on the floor is not enough for me to vote for it," Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) told MSNBC's Willie Geist on Wednesday morning. "It certainly wouldn't match the historical moment to do something that's just health care reform in name only. We need to do something real. We need to do something to stop the insurance companies' dominance over the checkbooks and health care of Americans. And that means doing something significant."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Monday that the health reform bill he will bring to the Senate floor will include a public option to compete with private health insurers. But no sooner had the Nevada Democrat made his announcement than reports began to spread that the public option doesn't have enough support in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster. All 60 members of the Democratic caucus would have to vote together to break a filibuster.
The likelihood of that happening was reduced on Tuesday when Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, announced he would support an expected Republican filibuster of Reid's bill.
On Wednesday, supporters of the public option raised the stakes, pressuring the Democratic congressional leadership to stand by plans for an alternative to private health insurers. House Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) issued a challenge to Democrats to stand up to the health insurance companies working to block reform.
"This is a moment of truth for the Democratic Party," Kucinich said in a statement. "Will we stand for the people or the insurance companies?"
Said Kucinich: “We compromised on [a] single payer [health care system] by backing a public option, and now we are being asked to compromise the public option with negotiated rates. In conference, we will likely be asked to compromise negotiated rates with a trigger. In each and every step of the health care debate, the insurance companies have won. If they get hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxpayer subsidies, they get to raise their premiums, and increase their co-pays and deductibles, while the public is forced to pay for private insurance, then the insurance companies win big.
“If this is the best we can do, then it is time to ask ourselves whether the two-party system is truly capable of representing the American people or whether the system has been so compromised by special interests that we can’t even protect the health of our own people," Kucinich stated.
Progressive activists joined the chorus of political pressure as well. Jane Hamsher, founder of the FireDogLake blog, said Reid will "pay a price" with his home-state voters in Nevada if he allows Lieberman to side with the Republicans and block the health care bill.
"It's never happened before that one party had -- technically, in the caucus -- a filibuster-proof majority and one of the members went to join over with the opposition party," Hamsher told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "You have to ask yourself, 'What were they thinking when they let Joe into the caucus and didn't get him to agree to join with them on procedural votes?'"
But in his MSNBC interview on Wednesday, Feingold praised Reid for even managing to keep the public option alive in the Senate for as long as it has been.
"A lot of people thought we wouldn't even have a public option being discussed at this point," Feingold said. "It's only because of the courage of our majority leader, who I believe is doing this on principle."
This video is from MSNBC's Morning Joe, broadcast Oct. 28, 2009.