Thursday, October 29, 2009

Health Care Reform... Not Dead Yet

**Updated to include links to the interviews mentioned below:
Congressman Alan Grayson
Brent Budowsky
Neil Finn ***

Though it sure seems as if someone in Washington is trying to kill the public option.

Harry Reed surprised the hell out of me last week when he announced that the Senate health care bill would include a public option. It gave me great pleasure to announce that I was wrong. I'd love nothing more than to be proven wrong in my pessimism today.

Nancy Pelosi today released the final House bill, HR 3962 The Affordable Health Care for America Act, which includes a less than robust public option. The concession she had to give to garner the 218 votes necessary to get the bill off the floor, I suppose, was to promise reimbursement rates to be negotiated with doctors, rather than based on Medicare rates plus 5%.

But that's not the worst part of what happened today. Speaker "Off the Table" Pelosi sold out a couple of progressive members of the House.

First up, Anthony Weiner. You might remember Weiner introducing an amendment that would replace the then-House bill, HR 3200, with the Single Payer bill HR 676. At first, I thought this was a wonderful idea! That is, until I spoke with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who co-authored HR 676 with John Conyers.

Mr. Kucinich has been in the House a long time, and understands the snail-like pace and frustrating ways in which things get done. Obviously, as author of the bill, he'd like nothing more than a single payer health care system in the country. But, as he explained to me, bringing the Weiner amendment up for a floor vote is the wrong way to go about it! It would lose, handily. You don't go into these fights when you know you're going to lose!

Congressman Weiner didn't heed the advice of his colleague, and pushed ahead, appearing on MSNBC, seemingly at every opportunity. Today, we learned that even though Congressman Weiner was promised a full floor vote on his amendment, it will not happen. Again, since it would have failed by a huge margin, it's probably just as well. And it did take the attention and efforts away from the better, more logical, Kucinich Amendment. But that certainly doesn't excuse the Speaker from her serious breach of trust; Education and Labor Committee Chairman Henry Waxman told him that Pelosi promised Mr. Weiner a full floor vote if he'd skip a committee vote.

Dennis Kucinich got his amendment through the Education and Labor committee bill, which would have allowed states to create their own single payer statewide health care system. This was the one hope we had in this legislation that would have opened the door to the only system that would truly reform health care in this country. It passed in the committee on which Dennis sits; one of the three bills that was reported in the House, and merged into this new bill that Pelosi introduced today. Although, as David Swanson reports today on, the Kucinich Amendment was stripped out of the bill, and no new amendments will be allowed in the debate before the House votes on the legislation.

I invited Congressman Kucinich on the program tonight to respond to today's developments. He will likely appear tomorrow night. In the meantime, he issued this statement today:

Washington D.C. (October 29, 2009) – Following a statement on the Floor of the House of Representative, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement about the latest House health care plan:

“Is this the best we can do? Forcing people to buy private health insurance, guaranteeing at least $50 billion in new business for the insurance companies?

“Is this the best we can do? Government negotiates rates which will drive up insurance costs, but the government won’t negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies which will drive up pharmaceutical costs.

“Is this the best we can do? Only 3% of Americans will go to a new public plan, while currently 33% of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured?

“Is this the best we can do? Eliminating the state single payer option, while forcing most people to buy private insurance.

“If this is the best we can do, then our best isn’t good enough and we have to ask some hard questions about our political system: such as Health Care or Insurance Care? Government of the people or a government of the corporations.”

Tonight, we'll talk about what happened today with Democratic advisor and The Hill columnist, Brent Budowsky. We'll also check in with Christy Harvey at the Center for American Progress.

Earlier today, I guest-hosted Montel Across America, and Alan Grayson was my guest. I'll share with you some parts of the interview, and explain why I'm becoming a bit disenchanted with the guy who, before our interview, I considered a hero.

And we'll have a treat tonight as well. One of my favorite bands of all time is the under-appreciated Crowded House! Neil Finn led the band, forming it after the band he and his brother fronted, Split Enz, broke up.

Neil Finn has put together a stellar group of musicians for a project called 7 Worlds Collide. Neil, his brother Tim Finn, sons Liam and Elroy, wife Sharon, along with Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Modest Mouse), Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone (Wilco), KT Tunstall, Ed O'Brien & Phil Selway (Radiohead) along with other equally notable musicians, got together at Finn's New Zealand home for three weeks last Christmas to record the album "The Sun Came Out." The proceeds will go to Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Find them at

Here's a look and listen to a few of the songs from Neil Finn and the all-star band of the players of 7 Worlds Collide: