'But if stripped, I'll support bill and re-introduce later,' Congresswoman tells Raw Story

WASHINGTON -- A leading progressive in the House of Representatives insisted Friday that the public option fight is "not over" but signaled that its ostensible removal from the final package won't necessarily strip the votes of liberal Democrats in the chamber.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and one of the most vigorous supporters of the idea, told Raw Story in an interview she was confident the Senate would pass the provision if only it's brought to a reconciliation vote.

"There will be at least 51 members that will vote for it," she said. "But [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] has to bring it to the floor."

One day after the bipartisan health care summit, Woolsey expressed the frustrations of the progressive caucus with the White House and Senate Democratic leadership for being hesitant to vigorously push for the proposal.

"I don't understand the thinking," Woolsey said. "I don't understand why the best opportunity to offer an affordable, quality plan that cuts costs and adds competition to the private insurance industry -- and saves billions of dollars -- is not right up there in front for the Democrats."

Polls have consistently found that the public option is very popular with Americans -- considerably more so than the overall Senate package that was approved in December.

The House bill that passed the previous month included a public plan, after a forceful push by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and progressive members. The Senate bill ultimately omitted it, and President Obama -- while alleging he supports it -- has not fought to bring it back.

"But I don't think it's over," Woolsey told Raw Story, referencing the letter signed by over 20 senators pushing to pass it through reconciliation.

Still, she hedged, signaling her confusion with the posturing of Senate Democrats. "I don't know how to read the Senate," she said. "Senators may be signing the letter because they want to save their careers, knowing it'll never come to the floor for a vote."

Woolsey assailed self-styled deficit hawks in Blue Dog Caucus for opposing the idea even though Congressional Budget Office projections have found it to be a cost-saver. "They just can't bear the thought of the private industry having competition," she said.

She noted that the progressive caucus is "doing everything we can for it" and it would be "a shame if we miss this opportunity to get it done." It remains unclear whether Senate Democrats will bring it to a vote.

Woolsey pointed out that she won't lead her caucus to kill the bill if the provision is removed, but will continue to fight for it later.

"My very, very progressive district is sending me all kinds of correspondence saying we have to get started, to vote for something, to get going," she said. "I won't vote for anything harmful, but I'll vote to get us started."

She added that if it's dropped, she's "introducing robust public option legislation the day after it's signed into law."

The Congresswoman said in no uncertain terms that the stiff abortion restrictions added at the last minute by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) "would kill the deal for the House." She also said progressives will fight for more generous subsidies and eliminating the excise tax.