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Action: Urge House Populists to Take the Pledge

I have donated to Blue America’s fundraising drive for House Democrats who have pledged to insist on a public option, American option, American Plan or whatever you want to call strong competition to private insurers in the health care reform bill.

The more House Democrats we can persuade to take this pledge, the better our chances for getting a good bill despite Obama administration plans to buy off disgruntled liberals with funding for favored projects.

This diary is about strategies for pushing House Populist Caucus members toward joining the "Progressive Block," our last line of defense against efforts to destroy meaningful health care reform.

All House Democrats need to hear from their constituents about health care reform, but I advocate a special focus on the Populist Caucus for several reasons:

1. The Populist Caucus announced its formation in February with a pledge to support "six key middle class economic issues," including "Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans."

2. Most of the 26 Populist Caucus members have signed on to support Health Care for America Now’s core principles for health care reform.

3. Eleven Populist Caucus members are already among the 64 House Democrats (or 65 by this count) who will oppose any health care reform bill lacking a robust public option.

4. If we can move just a few more Populist Caucus members in this direction, we may be able to persuade the caucus to issue a group statement or open letter, which would help drive the media narrative that the votes aren’t there in the House to pass a bill with no public option.

Frankly, I’m disappointed that the Populist Caucus hasn’t been out in front on this issue already. Founder Bruce Braley (IA-01) told the Huffington Post’s Chris Weigant in March,

The Populist Caucus is the only caucus in Congress devoted solely to addressing middle class economic issues. […] We’re going to be increasingly active on legislation and plan to be outspoken on these core economic issues. […] Another big issue we all want to influence is the healthcare debate. Middle class families are being squeezed from a thousand directions these days, but one of the biggest issues is the rising cost of healthcare. Many companies are reducing benefits in the midst of this recession, and families lose coverage when breadwinners become unemployed. The healthcare debate is beginning, and I think we’re well-positioned to influence it.

Presumably the Populist Caucus has stayed on the sidelines for lack of consensus, which wouldn’t be surprising for a group containing New Democrats and Blue Dogs as well as Progressives. Even without unanimous agreement within the caucus, it’s past time for the Populists to get involved in the health care debate.

Currently the Populist Caucus has 26 members:

Bruce Braley (IA-01), chair
Michael Arcuri (NY-24), vice-chair
Peter DeFazio (OR-04), vice-chair
Betty Sutton (OH-13), vice-chair
Leonard Boswell (IA-03)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Joe Courtney (CT-02)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-25)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Bob Filner (CA-51)
Phil Hare (IL-17)
Mazie Hirono (HI-02)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Steve Kagen (WI-08)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03)
Eric Massa (NY-29)
Michael Michaud (ME-02)
Tom Perriello (VA-05)
Linda Sanchez (CA-39)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)
Louise Slaughter (NY-28)
Peter Welch (VT-AL)
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Twenty-five of those 26 members (everyone except Slaughter) are among the 179 House Representatives who have said they support Health Care for America Now’s "statement of common purpose". Excerpt:

Our government’s responsibility is to guarantee quality affordable health care for everyone in America and it must play a central role in regulating, financing, and providing health coverage by establishing:

A truly inclusive and accessible health care system in which no one is left out.

A choice of a private insurance plan, including keeping the insurance you have if you like it, or a public insurance plan without a private insurer middleman that guarantees affordable coverage.

I also found 11 Populist Caucus members on Democracy for America’s list of 64 "health care heroes" and Blue America’s list of 65 House members who "took the pledge": DeFazio, Doggett, Ellison, Filner, Hare, Hirono, Johnson, Kaptur, Massa, Sanchez, and Yarmuth. Just three more Populists taking the pledge would put a majority of this caucus on our side.

People living in these 11 districts should thank their representatives for taking a stand and encourage them to co-author an open letter from Populist Caucus members insisting on a public health insurance option. They may not be aware that nearly a dozen Populists have already said they are willing to draw a line in the sand on this issue. A joint letter would get media attention, as did statements issued by groups of Blue Dogs and Progressives earlier this summer.

The other 15 members of the Populist Caucus especially need to hear from their constituents: Braley, Arcuri, Sutton, Boswell, Cohen, Courtney, Kagen, Loebsack, Lujan, Michaud, Perriello, Schakowsky, Shea-Porter, Slaughter, and Welch.

If you live in one of these districts, please tell your representative that you appreciate his or her support for Health Care for America Now’s core principles, which include a public option (leave out this talking point if you’re in Slaughter’s district).

Please remind your member of Congress that cooperatives are not a substitute for a real public option, and anyway, health care co-ops were already tried in Iowa and failed to provide competition to private insurers, which have near-monopolies in most markets around the country. You could also mention that affordable health care for the middle class is one of the core principles for the Populist Caucus, and let them know that quite a few of their Populist colleagues have already taken a stand.

Special note for those in IA-02, NM-03, and IL-09: Loebsack, Lujan and Schakowsky are in the Progressive Caucus as well as the Populist Caucus, and all three are also co-sponsors of HR 676, the single-payer bill. Ask them to stand with the dozens of Progressives who will not vote for any bill that substitutes co-ops for a real public option.

We should also ask Populist Caucus members to resist any White House attempts to buy their votes on health care reform with "inducements, like more money for favored projects." Fellow Iowan 2laneIA got it right in this diary:

Thanks, but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere.

We have a bridge that needs repair in our community. It would take about $350,000. I am happy to keep driving a different road to avoid it if we all get access to affordable health care instead. Any Democrat who trades his or her vote to keep the public option in return for a bridge, a day care center, or a highway expansion, should be publicly embarrassed. […]

While you are calling congressional public option supporters to thank them, tell them you don’t want any bridges if it means you don’t get affordable access to health care. You could also mention that if they vote for a bill without the public option, you will want to know what they got from the White House in return.

Please post any relevant thoughts and suggestions in this thread.

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