Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) is a co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, the group of liberal House Democrats who have been the most vocal supporters of the public option in Congress. Earlier this year, she spearheaded an effort to get 60 liberal Democrats to pledge opposition to any health reform bill that does not include a public option.
What follows is a lightly edited interview transcript, in which Woolsey says she's waiting for more details on the Senate health care deal that, it has been reported, will see the public option dropped from the Senate bill.
Progressives are looking for affordability and competition for private insurance plans, Woolsey says, and if they aren't satisfied, they'll "have a hard time voting" for the final bill. But Woolsey does not go so far as to say that House progressives will try to block a final package if it's modeled on the reported Senate deal.
Do you have details on the Senate deal, and if you do (or if you don't), what do you think of it so far?
Well, I don't have details. My details are the same general rumors that everybody else knows. I think after about six o'clock tonight it'll be clearer to all of us. But what I'm looking for, and, I believe, what progressives will be looking for, is where is the competition in this Senate compromise? That's what the public option provided, and that's what we must have...and it doesn't have to be called a public option, but we need to have a plan that will compete with private insurance, otherwise premiums are going to spiral right out of sight.
And then what we are also looking at is affordability. Who that's not covered that goes into an exchange--how are they going to be able to afford it, what are the subsidies, and if you're not covered, how do you get subsidies? And if you're afraid of losing your current coverage because of rates are going out of sight, then what are you going to do? We have to know that. It's about competition and affordability.
From what you're hearing, if the Senate passes something along the lines of what's rumored to be in this deal, and if the conference bill looks something like that, does it sound like something you would vote for or that you would maybe try to block?
Well, I won't vote for something that doesn't offer competition to the private industry, because otherwise we're doing nothing--we're just handing private insurers 30 million new customers, and their rates and their premiums can go out of sight. It's no good if it isn't affordable for the people that don't have coverage now, or people who have coverage and the rates keep going up.
What chance do you think the kind of public option you would like to see has right now?
I can't see why I can't count on competition and affordability. Without that, I just don't see how we've offered anything other than, you know, we've made the insurance companies do a few things they didn't want to do, but that's not real health care reform.
I saw it reported that the original coalition of people who had signed onto the letter saying they would vote against reform in the House that doesn't include a robust public option in it, that that coalition of 60 originally had gone down to 46...
We've never recounted it, and we already voted for the House bill, which wasn't robust, so it [the public option] was indeed weakened, and then we strengthened it slightly because we put some controls on the spiraling costs, and now heaven only knows what's coming out of the Senate.
Do you feel like you've got enough votes and that the coalition is strong enough to hold together and shape this, or push it in whatever direction you might end up wanting to push it in, when it comes back to the House?
Well, I can say right now that the progressives are not silent on this, that we are very aware of what's going on, and we are looking for health care reform that provides choice of competition and affordability, and if we don't see that, most of us will have a hard time voting for it.