Grijalva: Progressives Will Push For Changes To House Bill

Liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives can get behind the health care bill Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled today, but they'll press Democratic House leaders to make changes to it, according to one of the leaders of the House Progressive Caucus.

Progressive lawmakers are "obviously disappointed" that Pelosi's bill didn't include a stronger public option, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), one of two co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus, said in a phone interview.

"There's a level of satisfaction that we've brought [the public option] back from the dead, but a level of disappointment that it's not what we think the mechanism should have been," Grijalva said.

"We're gonna ask the leadership in the House to make some imrpovements on it," Grijalva said. "Obviously the most difficult issue is, something that people are requesting, is that we have an up or down vote on the robust public option as an amendment."

House leaders have indicated that the reform package will be closed to such an amendment when it reaches the floor for a vote, which is expected as early as next week. Democratic leaders reportedly don't have enough votes to pass a robust public option--one that ties physician and hospital reimbursement rates under the government-run plan to those used by Medicare.

But Grijalva says progressives are close--and they want to try to get there.

"We had hoped we had done enough to merit a push to try to get to 218 [the number of votes needed to pass such a bill] from wherever we were--210, 209, 207," Grijalva said.

Grijalva, along with fellow Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), led an effort by 59 liberal Democrats to block health reform that does not include a public option.

If Medicare reimbursement rates aren't possible, Grijalva said, progressives may push for a cap on physician payments (at median costs of medical services based on geography), an expansion of health insurance antitrust provisions, and specific language prohibiting both a so-called "trigger" mechanism and allowing states to opt out of the public plan, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has suggested.

As far as Reid's plan goes, Grijalva says he and other progressives stand opposed. But it all depends on what comes back from a House-Senate conference committee tasked with reconciling the two versions, should legislation pass in each chamber.

"You know, there's a lot of pressure right now--take one for the team, take one for the administration--and I think that pressure will come to bear, and they'll probably end up with 218. I'm not sure how I'm gonna vote," Grijalva said. "I'm leaning no, and that's a direction--I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon."

"But I think that if it comes back [from conference] with triggers, if it comes back with any level of opt-out, if it comes back with more loopholes for private insurance companies, I think you're going to see an abandonment of support from House Democrats that is going to be quite significant and could, at that point, stop any legislation," Grijalva said.

But if, in the end, it's a bill that looks like what Pelosi proposed today, Grijalva said momentum "would be in the other direction," and the House will likely pass it.