Public option non-negotiable, says top labor leader

If Senate and House members vote against a public health insurance option they will lose the support of organized labor in the next elections, said AFL-CIO Secretary –Treasurer Richard Trumka on national television last night.

Trumka issued the warning in an interview with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC News as unions, progressive groups, members of Congress and the Obama administration itself all re-iterated their support for a government-run public health plan that will compete with private insurance companies to keep costs down. His remarks came also on the heels of a move by lawmakers that insures no health care reform measure can pass in Congress unless it includes the public option.

“We’ll look at every one of their votes,” Trumka said. “If they’re against a public option, if they’re against the Employee Free Choice Act, they will not get support from working people or their unions.”

When Maddow pressed him on whether it was worth insisting on the public option even if that meant no bill would be able to be passed, Trumka said, “Absolutely. Without a public option there is no reform. In fact it’s worse than no reform because you have the private insurance companies getting handed even more than what they got before. The only way to force real competition on the insurance companies is a strong public plan option.”

Sixty Four House members who are strong backers of health care reform have signed on to a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pledging that, without a public option, they will not vote for a health care bill. In the letter they said, “Americans deserve reform that is real – not smoke and mirrors. We cannot rely solely on the insurance companies’ good-faith efforts to provide for our constituents. A robust public option is essential, if we are to ensure that all Americans can receive health care that is accessible, guaranteed and of high quality.

“To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it,” the statement concludes.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who co-hairs the Middle Class Caucus and sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said yesterday that the number of lawmakers who would vote “no” unless there is a public option was “more than 100.”

Weiner led the effort to secure an up or down vote on a single payer plan on the House floor. The vote will take place when the House considers health care reform this fall.

“Leaving private insurance companies to the job of controlling costs of healthcare is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief,” Weiner declared yesterday.

Many observers say that Republicans may have over played their hand in their resistance to health care reform.

Unions and their progressive allies have been able to turn many town hall meetings from the anti-Obama propaganda sessions right wingers were orchestrating into productive and meaningful discussions of the issues.

Recent statements by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R., Iowa, have exposed the party’s real intention of opposing not only the public option but any type of reform whatsoever. Polls released today indicate a 62 percent disapproval rating by the public for the way Republicans have handled the issue of health care reform.