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Raul Grijalva, Health Care Hero (Pt. I)

On Wednesday, NYCEve and I delivered over 63,000 petition signatures of support to Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison who are fighting to organize progressive members of the House to stand strong on a public option. I’ll have Rep. Ellison’s video up shortly.

Both men have been heroic in their efforts organize a new generation of progressives against the party corporatists who want to become the new GOP.

I was really impressed with Rep. Grijalva, and struck by the fact that he is struggling under the profound weight that is on him right now. He is the one who has been whipping the caucus from the start, trying to align them in a block. He has no support. Not in the party or in leadership. There is no donor base who stands by him, no liberal institution that will back him up even as the White House snubs progressives. He is a man who is trying to do what is right in the face of unbelievable pressure to do what is easy.

On Tuesday it all started to fall apart. Four of the 60 who pledged to vote "no" on any bill without a public plan just "happened" to spontaneously mention to the Hill on the same day that they were open to triggers. That afternoon, Pelosi and Reid emerged from the White House saying the same thing. Coincidentally, Rahm Emanuel has been pushing triggers since January.

Rep. Grijalva responded aggressively and I believe heroically, refusing to back down and cracking the whip — with precious little to back it up. He did what we are always asking Democrats to do. He is fighting a civil rights battle and should have the backing of the big groups behind him. He doesn’t, unless I’ve missed something — if anybody has gotten an email or seen a statement from an organization supporting his efforts, let me know. I think that’s wrong, and that there’s no good reason for it. I think it is important to support and reinforce that kind of decisive action and leadership in defense of causes we say we believe in.

In the wake of recent wobbles, we’re looking at our list and carefully evaluating the members whose votes we feel good about. We don’t want to encourage people to give money to members of Congress unless we believe that they intend to stand by their commitments. You’ll find these members with Rep. Grijalva and Rep. Ellison on our Health Care Heroes Act Blue Page. So far, we’ve raised $11,470 and we’d like to raise more to encourage this kind of committed progressive leadership.

The fundraising response to Joe Wilson’s outburst was impressive, but he’s in an extremely conservative district and we can’t expect it to be a progressive stronghold. We should also remember to rewarding those who are always there for us, who we count on to defend progressive values. Progressive leaders like Rep. Grijalva need our help right now, and they very much deserve it.


JH: I want to thank you so much for your leadership on healthcare, you really led the charge; it’s been really inspirational.

RG: Thank you. I don’t know if it’s inspirational, but we’ve been…on that issue, I’m not trying to divide the party, or be obstructionist, or try to demean the Obama Administration. As I tell people over and over, we’re just trying to be consistent with what we started to say a long time ago. When single payer got taken off the table, the last toe hold we had left was the public plan. With that removed, then you’re basically replicating what’s already there, and that’s not going to work.

We’re going to get pressure that additional people will be brought on to the rolls for Medicaid. We’re going to get pressure that the reforms being instituted on the insurance companies, regulatory issues. We’re going to get pressure that the law will include no preexisting conditions denial. And, all that being said though, without an independent, competitive, consumer-driven public plan, fundamentally we’re going to end up subsidizing the same companies to pick up more poor people now. We’re going to subsidize…Plan D gets left alone, so we never close that donut hole, and so we continue to spend $850 million a year to subsidize the pharmaceuticals to give the benefit that they should give anyway,

I think there’s going to be tremendous pressure on all of us individually that a win is a win. I think that enough time has passed that we get the opportunity to evaluate what a win is. I understand the intentions; they’re good, but now I think the American people want results. And so, that’s what…

EG: And, if the President came to you and said ‘you’ve really got to do this for the good of the country, vote for a bill that doesn’t have a public option,’ what would you say to the President?

RG: I would say that we’re just being consistent and that we’re not the ones sabotaging this thing. That our insistence on this is based on real public policy and that we don’t want a trigger, that we don’t want a public plan that has no network of providers. I’m open to discussing how the rates are set, that’s fine. But those two fundamental points…just…because it’s all in the definition of how you define what a public option is. If you define as kind of a gesture, an empty gesture, then people can say look I have a public option, it’s the content that’s the issue.

I think the President respects the fact that these are principled issues that we are taking, this is not petty. I’m not doing it…I’m not saying no just to be spiteful or petulant; this is a principled vote – a principled decision. I…we don’t get the opportunity to tinker with huge policy law often. This is it.

JH: Has the White House ever encouraged you on sticking to this?

RG: Yes. I think… the conversations I’ve had with the President have been, "I support a public option, it’s politically rough to try to get it done." OK. And that we insist that, that the fight’s worth it.

MS: Does Rahm Emanuel understand that?

RG: I don’t know. I don’t talk to him.

MS: Does he talk to anybody?

RG: Well, he doesn’t talk to me, but he must talk to somebody.

JH: It’s my understanding that you were the one all along who has been whipping your fellow members of the Progressive Caucus to join together: strength in numbers. I think that that has been really tremendously inspirational to people.

RG: I think it’s time that our caucus grew up.

JH: Absolutely, this is a first.

RG: We have been good soldiers. We have been good accommodators. We have swallowed things that were bitter. And that’s OK, that’s part of the process. But, there come some principled issues that if we hang together, I believe we can be very formidable. And this is a test.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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