Obama To Meet With Liberals

Obama will meet with liberals. How badly does he need their support?

Liberal Democrats in the House will get their wish: President Obama will meet with them face to face Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss health reform legislation.

House Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) requested a meeting "as soon as possible" in a letter to Obama Thursday, in which they reiterated their pledge to block comprehensive health care reform that does not include a public option and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they oppose the "trigger" proposal the White House recently floated. (Under that plan, a public health insurance plan would be created only if private insurers fail to meet certain targets.)

A total of 60 liberal House Democrats have made the pledge to block reforms without a public option, though not all have weighed in on the "trigger" plan since the White House floated it.

Obama held a conference call Friday with Woolsey, Grijalva, and leaders of the House Tri-Caucus (comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus). On it, caucus leaders pressed for the public option.

"The president listened, asked many questions, and suggested that the dialogue should continue," according to a press release from Woolsey's office.

That dialogue will indeed continue Tuesday or Wednesday, as Obama will hold a follow-up meeting with caucus leaders at the White House, according to Woolsey's office.

It's unclear how seriously progressives will threaten health reform's passage. They've made their statement clearly enough, and it looks as if a public option won't gain enough votes to make it through the Senate. For House Democrats, health reform could come down to a choice between a co-op plan or the "trigger," and no reform at all.

If the "trigger" seems more palatable to liberals--because it would, theoretically, result in a public option somewhere down the line if market goals aren't met--it's not: in an interview Thursday, Woolsey called the plan "phony"--while specifying that she doesn't think its main proponent, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is phony herself--and voiced skepticism that such a trigger would ever actually get pulled.

If it comes down to a "trigger" or nothing, Woolsey said she'd choose nothing.

Liberals are looking tough, but we won't know if they're truly willing to play slash-and-burn hardball with their new president until that moment arrives...if the Senate can deliver such a moment at all.

The Progressive Caucus has typically taken a backseat to its conservative counterpart in the party, the Blue Dog Coalition, in terms of media coverage and ability to instill fear, as the latter has been able to gum up the works with its more-conservative-than-Pelosi stances on spending. By some, the progressives aren't taken as seriously.

But now the caucus is baring its teeth. And if liberals stand by their threat, they could shut down health reform entirely.

For now, Obama is at least being very nice to them. Without knowing what will be said at the White House meeting next week, it's clear that Obama is publicly treating the threat with gravity, and such a meeting will undoubtedly boost progressives' standing in the health debate. He's had Blue Dogs at the White House to talk health reform before; now progressives are getting their due.

How badly does Obama need them? It all depends on how far they're willing to take it. In the meantime, he's reaching out and listening.