It was somewhat disconcerting when Donna Edwards would not confirm to the Hill this week that she would vote against any bill through conference that did not have a public plan:
Edwards, who signed the letter, declined to speculate on whether she would vote against a conference bill without a strong public option.
“That’s a long way down the line,” Edwards said. “I am talking about the House vote.”
So Howie Klein asked her if she’d like to clarify that. Donna released a statement, saying she is "unequivocal, unwavering, and unapologetic" about supporting a public option. But:
It is important that we stay focused on getting a robust public option included in the House version of the bill– nothing watered down. As a progressive member of the House of Representatives, I can’t spend time guessing or speculating about what the Senate will do. I do know that if we don’t do our work to get a strong bill out of the House, we won’t be able to beg, borrow or steal a robust public option from the Senate.
Uh — Rep. Edwards signed a letter on August 17. This is what it said:
We have attached, for your review, a letter from 60 Members of Congress who are firm in their Position that any legislation that moves forward through both chambers, and into a final proposal for the President’s signature, MUST contain a public option.
That’s more than "speculated," that’s a commitment. Through conference. That’s why all those people gave all that money.
Look it’s not going to be pretty going forward. A lot of people became aware of what was going on because of the fundraising aspect, because it was exciting and it got a lot of media attention, but it was the culmination of a long, hard slog that hundreds of blogs across the country had been working on since June. It happened because over and over again, people refused to accept weasel words about what a member would "support" and demanded a real commitment, signed and acknowledged in public, to vote against any bill that does not have a public plan.
Even then, people don’t take these members of Congress seriously. As the Hill notes, the 60 signatories "include lawmakers who have said they can accept health cooperatives and others who say they wouldn’t vote against the House bill in the end."
Members of Congress think they are playing a part in an established pattern: the House passes something that makes progressives feel like they got a "win," then it either stalls in the Senate or goes to shit in conference. And then the real votes get cast.
Putting the question to members of Congress now about what they’ll do when it’s crunch time, and letting them feel the pressure from the people who gave that money when they provide unsatisfactory answers, puts the "credible" into what Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein call the "credible threat." It’s the only question that these members need to be answering, because if nobody takes them seriously, it won’t occur to anyone doing political calculus in another chamber that the only way to pass health care is to include a public plan.
Someone asked us today if we had a Senate strategy. One of our folks answered, "our House strategy is our Senate strategy."
Going forward: no matter how much you like people, you can’t cut them slack when they send up trial balloons to see if they can get away with a kabuki vote in the House and then cave on the "meaningful" vote after conference. Because it starts an avalanche of people running for the door, now that the arm twisting has begun in earnest, and it threaten to undermine the whole effort.
If you’re just joining the effort, welcome, we’re glad to have you. You can read the primer here. We’ve been through this process before with the supplemental, and responding quickly when a member started to wobble or looked like they were building themselves an escape hatch was critical (we had the hashtag #rahmflu for just such an occasion). With so many people now engaged, it will be interesting to see how effective we can be in holding members of Congress to the promises that they’ve made.
So Rep. Edwards: love ya. As you’ll recall it was our conversation a week ago today at Netroots Nation that inspired the fundraiser in the first place, though a lot of folks may not know that. We need your leadership on this. So we’re going to ask a little better from you on this one.