Woolsey: Progressives Can Support Obama's Plan

It's still an open question whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will get the health care votes she needs from the liberal wing of House Democrats, but the co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus says her fellow progressives can get on board with President Obama's proposal--if they feel comfortable that the Senate will do its part.

"We would be a go knowing that it was a beginning, that there will be changes in the future, and that we know it's not a perfect plan, and if we thought the president could do more or that we could do more to get the Senate to come our way, because, you know, we had a pretty good plan we voted out of the House," Woolsey told The Atlantic after meeting with President Obama and members of her caucus, as well as representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, at the White House this afternoon.

"I don't think that there's a lot of wiggle room," Woolsey said. "I believe the president has reached out as far as he can to the conservatives, and this is probably the plan [we will vote on]."

Woolsey said she thinks other members of her caucus feel the same way.

In order for President Obama's health care plan to advance, the House must pass the Senate version--and that means House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will need votes from the Progressive Caucus, though the Senate bill will likely pick up a few votes from centrist Demcorats who voted against the more ambitious bill (which included the public option) passed by the House in November.

Progressives still want the public option, Woolsey said, and they still believe it can be passed through the Senate via reconciliation. As House Democrats wait for assurances from the Senate that certain "fixes" to the Senate bill will be passed in the upper chamber through the reconciliation process, Woolsey says the public option is one of those fixes she and other progressives are looking for.

"What I'm waiting for is to feel comfortable that the reconciliation package will have the fixes I want," Woolsey said. "They won't have all of them."

Before the meeting, fellow Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) had indicated to Salon that he was leaning toward a "no" vote on the Senate bill.

After the meeting, Grijalva said in an official statement: "I remain concerned about elements of the bill, but was encouraged by the president's outreach and interest in a substantive discussion. We agree that expanding health care access and quality, while bringing down costs, is a top priority this year, and I intend to continue playing a constructive role until Congress holds its final vote."

Grijalva said Obama supports pursuing a public option after the current proposal passes Congress.

"He said the public option--a well-known and long-standing progressive priority--lacks enough Senate support to be included in the final package. However, he personally committed to pursue a public option after passage of the current bill," Grijalva said.

Under the current strategy, House Democrats will attempt to pass the Senate's health reform bill (approved by the Senate in December), then the Senate will modify health reform through the simple-majority reconciliation process.

An aide to a progressive caucus member described today's White House meeting as a frank discussion.

"The president gave everyone the hard sell," the aide said. "He said if this doesn't happen, if health care goes down, we're all equally sunk." There were no threats or condemnations, the aide said--just a frank discussion.

The aide said support from Progressive Caucus members is not a done deal, and that they won't all necessarily vote the same way.

"As far as how the caucus will vote, no one can answer that question," the aide said. "I think there will still be some 'no' votes from the left."

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