Liberal Groups Don't Like Senate Health Bill, But They're Not Opposing It

Liberal groups are clearly unhappy with the Senate health care bill now that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has succeeded in forcing the removal of its Medicare buy-in provision, but so far they've stopped short of opposing it outright.

Neither of the nation's two most influential labor groups, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have an official stance on the bill yet. The AFL-CIO held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss it, but has yet to release a statement.

SEIU, meanwhile, will hold a meeting of its executive board Wednesday night to discuss the bill. Spokeswoman Lori Lodes said the union will need to see what's in the final package that goes to the Senate floor.

Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), the coalition of most major liberal interest groups that has signified the left's coordinated front on health care throughout 2009, says it's disappointed with the Senate bill in its current state, but that it still wants to see health care reform pass.

"We want to see health care reform happen. It's not something we can afford to delay any longer. BUT, we're disappointed with what we're hearing about the Senate bill, and we are going to keep fighting as hard as we can to get the best bill possible out of the conference process," spokeswoman Jacki Schechner said via e-mail.

HCAN has backed the White House's health reform push from the start, airing ads in support of it and encouraging moderate senators to get (and stay) on board. has been the most outspoken of liberal groups in attacking the current bill. It called on supporters to protest the bill at the White House on Wednesday, seeking to tell President Obama that liberals elected him to reform health care, not Lieberman.

The group sent an email to supporters today with the subject line, "Unacceptable."

"If the health care bill doesn't include a public option, it'll be a huge giveaway to the insurance companies. But the deal isn't final yet, so we need to send an immediate message to Congress and President Obama that any health care bill without a real public health insurance option is simply unacceptable," the group asserted in the email.

But MoveOn's efforts, so far, have been aimed at pressuring senators to improve the bill--not at telling them explicitly, as Howard Dean has done, to vote against it in its current form. Progressives--as we saw with the House Progressive Caucus -- have said before that reform without a robust public option is unacceptable, only to show willingness later to pass a bill that doesn't quite live up to their ideals, if they think it's better than nothing. That said, given how strongly MoveOn has criticized the bill, it would seem incongruous for the group to turn around and support this legislation at any point, even if no preferable deal can be reached.

The liberal health care group Families USA, meanwhile, says it will probably support the bill, despite its lack of a public option.

"We haven't seen yet Majority Leader Reid's final proposal, but it is highly likely that we will express enthusiastic support for the bill, even though we are disappointed about the absence of a public plan option. There is so much in this bill that is very much better than what we have today and stands in stark contrast to what would happen if health reform fails," Families USA Executive Director and Vice President Ron Pollack said.

Pollack says he doesn't think other liberal groups will stand against the bill, either, in the end, if the alternative is no reform at all.

"I don't know any significant number of groups saying we don't want to see this bill pass in the Senate," Pollack said. "Most if not all of us are looking for some improvements during the conference committee."

Other groups are certainly less supportive of the bill than Pollack's, but that could become the left's strategy if no concessions can be won in the short term: getting something passed in the Senate, then trying to win some changes to it when the Senate and House bills are merged by a conference committee and then voted on, again, by both chambers.

SEIU issued a challenge to President Obama and legislators Thursday morning to fight for a better bill, while stopping short of urging Democrats to vote against the current version.

"Our challenge to you, to the President, to the Senate and to the House of Representatives is to fight," SEIU President Andy Stern wrote in the e-mail.

UPDATE 2: The AFL-CIO released a statement from its president, Richard Trumka, this afternoon calling the Senate health care bill "inadequate."

"The absolute refusal of Republicans in the Senate to support health care reform and the hijacking of the bill by defenders of the insurance industry have brought us a Senate bill that is inadequate:  It is too kind to the insurance industry," Trumka said, adding that the House bill provides a model for "real reform" and that "working people cannot accept anything less than real reform."