Interview With Rep. Lynn Woolsey: Progressives Can't Support A "Trigger"

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With the White House now floating a health care compromise, the "trigger" proposal offered by Sen. Olympia Snowe, I spoke with House Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) Thursday afternoon about the proposal, and whether her fellow House progressives could, potentially, get on board. She made it clear that the answer is no.

Woolsey is one of 60 liberal Democrats who have threatened to block health care reform without a public option. Under the so-called "trigger" plan, the government would set certain market goals for health insurance companies to meet; if they didn't, a public health insurance option would kick in.

Woolsey graciously gave a brief interview on the idea while in the mountains of California, in iffy cell phone range. A lightly edited transcript follows.

The White House is now floating the idea of passing health care reform with a so-called "trigger," as proposed by Sen. Olympia Snowe. Could progressives support a plan like that?

Rep. Woolsey: Well, I can't. And no, we can't, because it will actually delay what we know is the most important part of health care reform, which is offering choice and competition, and we need a robust public health care plan immediately, not when the private health insurers prove once again that they either can't or won't solve the health care reform needs in this country.

So, in your view, it would just be postponing what needs to happen for a few more years?

Rep. Woolsey: Well, if they even pull the trigger. We have Part D Medicare as our example. There's a trigger that was the compromise in that legislation, and it's never been pulled, and there are all kinds of problems with Medicare Part D, and we've never pulled the trigger so that there could be a public plan in that.

So even if legislation with a trigger is passed, there's no guarantee that the trigger would get pulled?

Rep. Woolsey: Right. I mean we have to just look at Medicare Part D. It should have been pulled and it never has been, and I doubt that it ever will be.

Is there any way that the trigger mechanism could be set up in a better way than it was with Medicare Part D?

Rep. Woolsey: No. It's a phony way to--you know, I don't think Olympia Snow is phony, but for the subject of health care reform, it is putting off what we should be doing in the first place, and putting it off, probably, in perpetuity.

One argument says you might be better off with a trigger, because you might be able to get a more robust public option eventually. If you believe that insurance companies cannot or will not meet the market goals, people who like a strong public option would be happier with the kind of public option they would get under a trigger.

Rep. Woolsey
: That's like not knowing that the insurance companies have had how many forever years to solve the health care needs of the people of the United States of America, and they either can't or won't do the right thing. Why would we think they'd do it now, without competition, real competition, and immediately? There's no reason we can't have a robust public option now. We want a robust public option, and we want it now. We want it linked to Medicare for providers and linked to Medicare for the right structure, and that could be in place immediately.

If it ends up being between a trigger and nothing, would you say nothing?

Rep. Woolsey: Yes, I would. I'm for health care reform, I'm not for tweaking around the edges.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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