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On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

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Leo GerardThis Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:

“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:

“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.

***

For help: the Union of the Unemployed, the AFL-CIO, USW, Working America. Join the One Nation March for jobs Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.


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Cheating Workers Out Of Rights, Benefits

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Image: IBEWLawmakers Go After Employers Who Misclassify Workers as Contractors

Nearly three years ago, Warren, Ohio, Local 573 Business Manager Mark Catello found out the hard way how rampant is the illegal practice of misclassifying workers as independent contractors to circumvent labor law and cheat on taxes.

The local tried organizing cable workers at Baker Communications, a subcontractor for Time Warner Cable. Organizers got the majority of the 40-person unit to sign union authorization cards, but the National Labor Relations Board killed the unionization drive after agreeing with the company that most of its employees were independent contractors, making them exempt from the right to collectively bargain. “It’s a scam,” Catello said. “All the employees had to follow the company’s manual, wear the company’s uniform with the Baker Communications logo on it and follow their work schedule.”

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.
San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

Federal and state officials are now starting to aggressively crack down on employers who mislabel their employees as independent contractors—an act that cheats both taxpayers and workers out of billions of dollars.

According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, more than two dozen states are stepping up their enforcement of employment laws by increasing penalties for employers who misclassify workers as contractors. And Congress recently introduced tougher legislation to punish lawbreakers.

‘Widespread Practice’

The practice is extensive, says James Parrott, chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York. He testified earlier this year before the state Senate that an estimated 10 percent of the state’s workers are misclassified as independent contractors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has been estimated to be as high as 30 percent in some states. Lax enforcement of the rules has only encouraged the practice.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that 10 million workers were classified as independent contractors, an increase of more than 2 million in just six years.

Misclassification ends up costing federal and state authorities billions in lost revenue. Companies that report employees as independent contractors avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes.

But misclassifying workers also cheats workers out of their rights and benefits. Laws regarding overtime, workers’ compensation, sick days and minimum wage don’t apply to independent contractors.

“This denies many workers their basic rights and protections and means less revenues to the Treasury and competitive advantage for employers who misclassify,” Jared Bernstein told the New York Times. Bernstein is a noted economist and aide to Vice President Joseph Biden. “The last thing you want is to give a competitive advantage to employers who are breaking the rules.”

The practice is particularly common in trucking and some sectors of the construction industry. It is also found in the telecommunications industry, particularly in satellite dish and cable installation.

And it’s not just fly-by-night operations that are guilty. Corporate giants FedEx, Target and Comcast have all been sued for misclassifying workers.

Counting their workers as contractors has also proven to be an easy way for employers to prevent unionization.

‘Keeps Them From Joining a Union’

For Eighth District Organizer Bob Brock, a crackdown on industry violators is long overdue.

Brock has been trying to organize workers who install home satellite dishes for more than a year. Many of these workers—located mostly in Idaho, Montana and Colorado—endure long hours, low pay, draconian work rules and unsafe working conditions. But according to their employers—including Direct TV and Star West Satellite—they are their own bosses.

“Most of these (satellite) companies operate a whole separate wing, which they staff with what they call independent contractors,” Brock said. “But they have to follow the companies’ regulations, their work hours and use their equipment. What kind of boss is that?”

Brock says that the IBEW has been successful in getting many of these workers to talk with organizers, but until their job status is changed, they can’t legally form a union.

He says he has seen workplaces where two different workers are doing the exact same job, but one is labeled an employee while the other is an independent contractor. “It’s a selective way for the company to get out of paying benefits and taxes and to keep them from joining a union.”

Educating Workers on Their Rights

But the IBEW hasn’t given up on organizing the satellite sector. The Eighth District has started an organization—Satellite Techs Allied for a New Direction—which brings together satellite workers to improve their working conditions. Organizers help workers document what’s going on in their workplace so they have evidence to back up their claims that they are full-time employees.

STAND also helps misclassified workers with tax advice and how to avoid being preyed on by unscrupulous insurance agents who try to sell them overpriced liability policies. It’s a long-term strategy, Brock says, but the campaign is starting to pick up steam. “The word is spreading throughout the industry. A lot of them don’t know about their rights and they are hungry to find out.”

The campaign is now moving into lobbying mode, with organizers talking to state leaders about rampant abuses in the satellite installation industry. “This is a good time, because with the budget shortfalls, politicians are more eager to crack down on tax cheats,” Brock said.

Rampant Abuse

Broadcasting is another industry where the practice has become widespread. “Many broadcast technicians will work for one of the big networks, be considered an employee, but then go work for another network, do the exact same job, and all of a sudden they become contractors,” said Broadcasting Department Director Ro Wratschko.

Many smaller production companies are also notorious for misclassifying employees to give them unfair advantage over local signatory companies. “They are bidding for the same work as our union shops but they are illegally getting out of paying the same taxes we do, so they have a leg up,” he said.

While not as rampant in the electrical construction industry as it is in other trades, many inside locals have confronted nonunion contractors trying to pass off their employees as contractors. Last fall, Dublin, Calif., Local 595 helped bring to light one Bay Area contractor who cost the state and her employees millions of dollars by illegally misclassifying them.

“It’s the primary means for nonunion contractors to get out of their responsibilities to their employees and try to cut into our market share,” said Kirk Groenendaal, Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development.

Federal prosecution of companies that misclassify their workers as contractors was nonexistent under the Bush administration, says Political and Legislative Department International Representative Dan Gardner, but the tide is turning.

President Obama has promised to hire an additional 100 investigators to look at companies accused of misclassifying workers and the Internal Revenue Service announced in February that it was launching a three-year nationwide investigation of the practice.

On Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) has introduced the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability, and Consistency Act of 2009—with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) sponsoring a House version—which beefs up enforcement of worker classification regulations and closes tax loopholes used by unscrupulous employers.

In April, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) introduced a similar bill—the Employee Misclassification Act—that focuses on tougher enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Department of Labor also recently announced tougher regulations of worker classification regulations, calling on employers to disclose to their employees their work status.

State authorities are also intensifying their crackdown. In Iowa, a six-month investigation by the labor department recently found more than 100 companies guilty of misclassifying employees, while in California, Attorney General Jerry Brown is aggressively going after lawbreakers, recently filing a $4.3 million lawsuit against a construction company with several public works contracts that he says cheated workers out of wages.

In Nebraska, a bill is under serious consideration that would target trucking and construction companies that abuse the independent contractor label.

Gardner said that the IBEW is working closely with NECA contractors and other businesses to push Congress to endorse Sens. Kerry’s and Brown’s legislation to crack down on lawbreakers. “It’s wrong for workers, wrong for taxpayers and wrong for the businesses that play by the rules and follow the law.”

This post originally appeared in IBEW.org on June 2, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexander Hogan is Communications Specialist for the IBEW.


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Enough Hand Wringing. Get the Job Done!

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Image: Richard KirschAs Washington grapples with the outcome of the election in Massachusetts this week, it’s important to remember one key thing: Congress can still pass historic legislation that will make health care a right, not a privilege, in the United States. While the procedural route may be different, Congress still can do what it intended to do before Tuesday. It can enact a comprehensive bill that will make good health care affordable to tens of millions of people who are uninsured or underinsured and end the practice of denying people coverage or charging people more for pre-existing conditions. It can end the specter of medical bankruptcy, provide free access to preventive care, and more. None of these historic achievements can be done through “incremental” reform, and failing to accomplish these goals would put the Democratic Party in profound political peril.

While it may seem appealing to carve up the many facets of reform into smaller bites, that won’t get the job done. Take, for example, the promise that has most resonated with the public: stopping insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. You can’t do that without requiring everyone be covered because many people would wait to get covered until they needed treatment and that would drive premiums too high. But you can’t require people to get coverage without providing income-based subsidies to make coverage affordable. And you can’t raise the money for subsidies without finding savings in the system, like the proposed changes in Medicare, or raising new revenue. All that adds up to comprehensive reform.

The same logic applies to the other basic items Americans most want from reform, like relief from medical bankruptcy or stopping insurers from charging more to women or making the health insurance market work for small business.

At its heart, comprehensive reform is a simple guarantee that you will have access to good, affordable coverage whether you work for someone else, are self-employed, or are unemployed. The bills that have passed both houses of Congress achieve that goal through the same basic mechanisms: expanding Medicaid, establishing new health insurance marketplaces, providing income-based subsidies for buying regulated insurance within those marketplaces, extending tax credits to at least small businesses, and establishing some requirements for most businesses to offer coverage or pay for it. Both bills raise the money through changes in Medicare and new revenues. Taken together, that will mean that for the first time every American will have access to affordable health care coverage.

If we look at history, we see that once we have built such a foundation, Congress will improve on it. When Social Security was enacted, it left out major categories of workers and didn’t provide for surviving spouses or dependents. Those omissions got fixed later.

If we fail to pass reform or pass minor reforms that don’t really change anything, it will be at least 15 years before the nation tries again. If we enact the agreed upon reforms, Congress will continue to debate how to improve upon what’s in place. And it will defend the new right to health care against those who would tear it down – just like Republicans have been trying and failing to privatize Social Security since it was first passed.

This isn’t just a policy question; it’s a political one. Republicans are counting on stopping the Democratic agenda so that Democrats will fail and voters will give the Republicans another chance. The Massachusetts election demonstrated that Democrats need to deliver on the promise of change. After a year of getting within sight of the finish line on comprehensive health care reform, the only choice from a policy and political perspective is to get the job done.

As the national campaign manager of the nation’s biggest progressive health care campaign – one that has organized hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states and spent $45 million fighting for reforms that go well beyond what now seems possible – I understand as well as anyone how frustrating progressives find this situation. But we should never lose sight of what Dr. King said about health care in this nation: “Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Congress is on the brink of dramatically reducing this inequality even though the legislation has many imperfections.

So on behalf of the army of activists who have fought with us for more than a year, our message to Democrats in the House and Senate is simple: pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off, and enact the compromise plan you were set to pass before the Massachusetts election. You still have big majorities in both houses. Because of Republican obstructionism, you’ll need to use different procedures to get the job done. But just do it! And know that each and every year you will have saved tens of thousands of lives, rescued hundreds of thousands of families from medical bankruptcy, and proved to America you are up to the challenge of building a new and better future for our children and the generations that follow.

*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on January 22, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Kirsch is the National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now.


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A Closer Look at the House Bill: Taking on the Insurance Industry

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Over the next few days, I’ll be taking a closer look at the provisions on the House health care bill – H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. As was the case when the original tri-committee bill was released, the House committees have a ton of fact sheets on the bill that are required reading for folks looking to learn more.

Overall, the House bill is a bill that takes on the insurance industry. Here’s how:

A Public Health Insurance Option

First and foremost, the House bill creates a public health insurance option, available in the new health care marketplace called the “Exchange,” that would compete directly with private insurance. The public option won’t have to worry about profits or stockholders, and because it is run by HHS, it will have huge bargaining clout to get good rates from providers. Overall, while the public option in the House bill won’t save taxpayers as much money as a public option based on Medicare rates, it will still save money according to the CBO.

Because of all that savings, and because the public option will have a mandate to provide health care to people, not maximize profit, it will be a strong competitor to private insurance, keeping prices down and attracting customers. Private insurance will be forced to compete or face losing their most profitable customer base – the individuals and small group customers who are in the Exchange from the start.

Insurance Industry Regulations

The House bill puts new regulations on the insurance industry to curb their bad practices.

The practice of rescission – terminating someone’s insurance plan because they get sick – would be outlawed immediately. Similarly, as soon as this bill is signed, lifetime caps on insurance coverage would be outlawed.

After the Exchange is set up in 2013, all insurers, not just the ones in the Exchange, will be barred from denying care for pre-existing conditions, charging more if your are a woman or sick, or employing annual benefits caps. They will have to cap out-of-pocket expenses at a standard level, keep administrative costs down to below 15%, and publicly disclose and justify their rate increases.

Medicare beneficiaries and the unemployed will benefit as well, with overpayment to private companies through Medicare eliminated and COBRA coverage extended until the Exchange is set up.

Finally, the House bill will eliminate the anti-trust exemption on health insurance companies, making it possible to finally prosecute them for their monopolistic practices.

Immediate Relief

The House bill also provides immediate relief for people at the mercy of the insurance industry by setting up an interim high risk pool open to people who have been uninsured for at least a few months or who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Though clearly not a long term solution, the high-risk pool, combined with the COBRA extensions mentioned above, would get people out from the trap the insurance industry has put them in until full reforms kick in.

Taking on Drug Companies

The House bill also gives us significant savings from drug companies, which according to the Washington Post would amount to between $125 and $150 billion in cuts to their profits.

It does this by eliminating the donut hole which forces seniors to pay unaffordable prices for prescription drugs, starting immediately and completely closing the hole by 2019. It also requires the Secretary of HHS to negotiate for better drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid, and makes it easier for Medicare Part D to offer free generic prescription drugs to enrollees.

Of course, some issues, like biologics (new drugs exempted from generic competition), are still unresolved.

————————

There’s a lot to talk about in the House bill – employer responsibility, fair financing, a whole host of other reforms that take effect immediately. Over the next few days I’ll talk about those. However, the overall thrust of the bill is clear – it takes on the insurance industry for consumers, strengthening care for folks without insurance, on the individual market, in small and large businesses, and on Medicare and Medicaid.

About the Author: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

This article originally appeared in Health Care for America Now on October 29, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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Maine Union Members Tell Snowe to Support a Public Option, and More Health Care News

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Image: Seth Michals
Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

When Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) suggested she would block health care reform if it included a public option, Maine workers took action: The Maine AFL-CIO put its convention on hold so attendees could call her and tell her that a public option is essential to make reform work. (Recent polls in Maine suggest Mainers strongly support a public option.)

Here are some of the latest developments in the fight for real health care reform:

  • Momentum is building for a public option in final bills being crafted in the U.S. Senate and the House. This is a critical time to contact your senators and representatives.
  • Big companies like Wal-Mart are lobbying hard to exempt the coverage they provide from health care reform. That would leave tens of millions of workers stuck in the same high-cost, no-guarantee system we have today.

    Union members in Arkansas and across the country are telling their senators to support real health care reform.
  • 55 members of Congress who oppose giving America the choice of a public option are actually getting government-administered health care through Medicare.
  • Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, writes in today’s San Antonio Express-News that the insurance companies are trying to stay in charge of our health care, but working families can’t afford the status quo.
  • Mark Froemke, president of Minnesota’s Northern Valley Labor Council, has a great op-ed today in the Grand Forks Herald that lays out the stakes on health care:

If Congress fails to enact reform, things won’t just stay the same-they’ll get worse…unless we enact changes now, those who manage to keep their coverage will pay an even heftier price over the next 10 years.

As it stands, insurance companies have a stranglehold on our health care system, driving up costs and coming between middle-class Americans and the care they need.

  • Minnesota union members rallied for heath care this week in Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester.
  • Union members in Louisiana and Arkansas also are rallying and reaching out to their Senators to demand health care reform that works.
  • Yet another insurance company is playing with numbers, seeking to scare people about health care reform. This time it’s WellPoint fudging the facts and leaving out critical information. Check out this great chart from Think Progress that shows how the insurance companies are fighting reform.
  • The Center for American Progress Action Fund has a great new report out today detailing insurance company’s tactics to hide vital information about denying coverage.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 23, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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What Today’s Vote on the Public Option in the Senate Finance Committee Means

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Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted on two amendments from Senators Schumer and Rockefeller to add a public health insurance option to the Baucus Bill. Both of those amendments were defeated, 8-15 and 10-13 respectively.

In a long debate on the amendments, Senators spoke out vigorously in favor of the idea. Rockefeller exhorted his colleagues to consider the people of this country as they vote. Schumer asked why the insurance industry was afraid of a little competition. Cantwell, Menendez, Bingaman, Kerry, Bill Nelson, and Stabenow all made their cases and pushed back hard on the misinformation coming from the opposition. The intellectual and moral case for the public health insurance option was clear. And there were some pleasant surprises as Senator Wyden voted for both amendments, and Senators Bill Nelson and Carper voted for the Schumer amendment.

On the Rockefeller amendment, which would have created a public health insurance option based on Medicare, the roll call was:

Democrats

Max Baucus, MT – No
John D. Rockefeller IV, WV – Aye
Kent Conrad, ND – No
Jeff Bingaman, NM – Aye
John Kerry, MA – Aye
Blanche Lincoln, AR – No
Ron Wyden, OR – Aye
Charles Schumer, NY – Aye
Debbie Stabenow, MI – Aye
Maria Cantwell, WA – Aye
Bill Nelson, FL – No
Robert Menendez, NJ – Aye
Thomas Carper, DE – No

Republicans

Chuck Grassley, IA – No
Orrin Hatch, UT – No
Olympia Snowe, ME – No
Jon Kyl, AZ – No
Jim Bunning, KY – No
Mike Crapo, ID – No
Pat Roberts, KS – No
John Ensign, NV – No
Mike Enzi, WY – No
John Cornyn, TX – No

On the Schumer amendment, which would have created a “level playing field” public health insurance option, the roll call has:

Democrats

Max Baucus, MT – No
John D. Rockefeller IV, WV – Aye
Kent Conrad, ND – No
Jeff Bingaman, NM – Aye
John Kerry, MA – Aye
Blanche Lincoln, AR – No
Ron Wyden, OR – Aye
Charles Schumer, NY – Aye
Debbie Stabenow, MI – Aye
Maria Cantwell, WA – Aye
Bill Nelson, FL – Aye
Robert Menendez, NJ – Aye
Thomas Carper, DE – Aye

Republicans

Chuck Grassley, IA – No
Orrin Hatch, UT – No
Olympia Snowe, ME – No
Jon Kyl, AZ – No
Jim Bunning, KY – No
Mike Crapo, ID – No
Pat Roberts, KS – No
John Ensign, NV – No
Mike Enzi, WY – No
John Cornyn, TX – No

In the most conservative committee in the Senate, which is itself the most conservative house of Congress, a public health insurance option got the support of an overwhelming majority of the governing party. And as such, it sets the stage for the next step.

As has been reiterated over and over on this blog, the public health insurance option saves money and lowers costs, it’s the only way to hold insurance companies accountable, and it is overwhelmingly popular – both in Congress, where four out of five committees have already passed a public health insurance option, and with the American people, 77% of whom support the idea. The next time the public health insurance option will come up for consideration is when Harry Reid merges the Finance bill with the HELP bill. The above facts should be kept in mind during that process.

Today was the first step in building momentum for a public health insurance option in the Senate. Clearly, the idea has weight – even self-described moderates such as Bill Nelson and Tom Carper voted for it. As we move to the floor and into conference, with Schumer, Rockefeller, and other champions pledging support and whipping their colleagues, those numbers can and will continue to grow. As Schumer says, a public health insurance option will be in the bill President Obama signs into law. It’ll take work, but it can and will happen.

Chris Bowers has an update to our Senate whip count proving we have 51 votes in the Senate for a public health insurance option. Senator Harkin concurs. As today made clear, there will be surprises as this debate commences. Senators Wyden, Carper, and Nelson (FL) made clear that they support a public health insurance option, something that we didn’t know beforehand. Who knows what other surprises await us as the push continues.

Today was the first step. Today, Senators voted for the first time on the sole question of the public health insurance option, and a huge majority of Democrats supported it. There is no question that this was a big day for health reform, and it will shape the ground going forward.

About the Author: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

This article originally appeared in Health Care for America Now on September 29, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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