kucinichI was on Democracy Now with Dennis Kucinich this morning talking about the health care vote.

Kucinich voted against the bill after they didn’t allow a vote on his amendment to allow states to create single-payer health care systems.

I noted that Bart Stupak was able to pull his last-minute hijack of the health care bill because any 39 Democrats could stop the bill from passing. Given the fact it’s been well known for a while now that at least 25 Democrats would vote against any health care bill no matter what was in it, that meant any 14 Democrats could have joined together to block its passage unless either the Weiner Amendment or the Kucinich Amendment made its way to the floor.

I asked Congressman Kucinich if there was any attempt to whip those 14 votes.  He said no, there wasn’t.  Given the fact that H.R. 676 has 88 cosponsors, I asked him if there weren’t 14 who would have supported him in that effort.  He said no, he thought he was the only one willing to make that kind of vote of conscience.

It was hard to be happy about the passage of the health care bill on Saturday given the incredible blow to women’s rights that it represents.  With the exception of Kucinich and Massa, all of the House progressives abandoned their July 30 pledge to vote against any bill that didn’t have a public option with rates tied to Medicare.  Of course, those on the Energy & Commerce Committee abandoned it the next day, led by Jan Schakowsky, which is why we summarily mocked them at the time.  They were never going to take a stand against the Blue Dogs on Medicare reimbursement rates.  They traded it away for a floor vote on single payer, which the Speaker subsequently reneged on.

But all that was clear on August 3rd when the progressives capitulated in committee.  What wasn’t clear was whether there would be a public option in the House bill at all.  A month ago, it was pronounced dead by pundits and politicians left and right, but pressure from the base was able to stave off the influence of $1.4 million a day in lobbying money being spent by the medical industrial complex and force its inclusion.  No matter what you think of the adequacy of the public plan itself (and it is woefully inadequate), that is a huge tactical achievement.

It was possible, however, because there was already an effort within the caucus, led by Raul Grijalva and Jerrold Nadler, to whip their fellow Democrats to vote “no” on a bill that didn’t have a public option (the questionaire they sent out didn’t mention “medicare rates.”)  The two torpedos that were known at the time — Rahm Emanuel’s triggers, and Kent Conrad’s co-ops — were successfully kept out of the bill.  The White House successfully kept the Common Purpose “veal pen” groups from supporting their efforts, and yet they prevailed.  Online efforts led by DFA, FDL, Credo, Democrats.org and others provided critical support to Grijalva’s and Nadler’s efforts.

Unless you’re Wayne LaPierre and you’ve got the NRA’s huge infrastructure behind you, or you’re AIPAC and you can cut an instant $200,000 check to the challenger of anyone who speaks out against you, it’s not possible to force members of Congress to take a stand on something they’ve got no inclination to do on their own.  Planned Parenthood, with its hundreds of millions of dollars in state and national assets, did not mobilize the 180 members of the bipartisan pro-choice Democrats in July when Stupak first wrote his letter threatening to tank the bill.  Neither did NARAL.

We began whipping in support of the public option on June 23.  With a President who campaigned on having a public option and majority in the House and Senate who expressed public support, it allowed us to spend the intervening months closing the gap between rhetoric and action, and put pressure on those whose actions fell short of their promises.  When H.R. 676 co-sponsors like Charles Rangel, Eddie Bernice Johnson, David Scott and Joe Baca began dropping their support and threatening to vote against any single payer amendments, on the other hand, there was no price paid.

A public option was never anything more than a stepping stone to Medicare for all, a foothold in what would have otherwise been nothing more than a huge transfer of wealth to the insurance industry (which is still by-and-large is).  But it’s going to take a lot more political organizing on the inside before any real headway can be made on that front, and we’re working on that now.  The fact that even 14 of the 89 cosponsors won’t exercise the power they have and stand together to force even a symbolic vote shows how much work has to be done.