In what looked more like a death rattle than a call to arms, about 50 liberal activists gathered in front of the White House this afternoon for a hastily arranged rally meant to protest President Obama for allowing Sen. Joe Lieberman so much leverage in the health care debate.
Protesters were alerted to the event by an email sent out this morning by MoveOn calling for an “emergency White House rally” meant to “show that grassroots progressives aren't ready to cave in to Joe Lieberman.”
While there was widespread frustration with Senate Democrats apparent abandonment of the public option, there seemed to be little appetite for a movement to “kill the bill,” as some liberal bloggers have called for, and Howard Dean suggested later in the day.
“We feel that health care reform is being bogged down by a few individuals who are threatening to not vote against the Republican filibuster, Joe Lieberman specifically, and we’re just calling on Obama to put pressure on Congress and fulfill his campaign promise for health care reform with a public option,” Patrick Robinson, spokesman for MoveOn, told me.
Robinson said that, “Without a public option, it’s just a giveaway to the insurance companies, and it does nothing to control costs.”
He remained convinced that private insurers would find ways around new regulations, such as rules forcing them to cover those with preexisting conditions. But with the Senate racing toward passage of legislation by a Christmas deadline, there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.
“Kill the bill is kind of a dramatic term,” Robinson said, suggesting there would still be time to fight when the House and Senate meet to reconcile their two bills. “There’s going to be a back and forth for a couple of months, and we have to keep fighting for a public option in the final bill.”
Stan Boyd, a retired high school American history teacher on hand for the protest was more blunt.
“To me, it’s the death of health care,” Boyd lamented. “And that’s sad, because this was a real opportunity. I think people voted heavily Democratic because they wanted something done to solve the health care problem, and instead we’re just getting something that will benefit the insurance companies.”
Boyd complained about the lack of leadership from Obama, and wished he had called up Lieberman to put personal pressure on him, as Lyndon Johnson was famous for doing to members of Congress reluctant to get behind his agenda.
Yet Boyd also said that the legislation had some “marginal” improvements, such as the requirements that insurers cover those with preexisting conditions, and ending caps on lifetime insurance payments.
“I wouldn’t try and kill the bill,” he said. “One small step is better than nothing at all.”
Later in the day, an offical of Health Care for Americans Now, a coalition of liberal groups including MoveOn that was actively pushing for a public option, said they were preparing to send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging passage of the Senate bill.
“There are major problems with the Senate bill,” Richard Kirsch, HCAN’s campaign director, told the Los Angeles Times today. “But if the Senate doesn’t act, there will be no healthcare reform. ... The place to fix [the Senate bill] is in a conference committee.”
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