Usually, the U.S. Congress is thought of as being divided between the Senate and the House of Representatives and between Republicans and Democrats within those institutions. However, there are divisions within the parties, primarily the Democratic Party, that have become more visible as a result of the health care debate.
An Aug. 18 report in Bloomberg
calls attention to the 83-member Congressional Progressive Caucus
. When, on Aug. 16, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius suggested that the public option in health care reform was “not the essential element,” the Congressional Progressive Caucus was quick to respond. In a letter to Sebelius, caucus leaders wrote, “To take the public option off the table would be a grave error. Passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is composed primarily of House members, but also includes Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Udall of New Mexico. The caucus made its position on the public option in health care reform clear in a July 30
letter to Speaker of the House Pelosi stating, “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates -not negotiated rates -is unacceptable.”
The disorganization among Democrats was highlighted in the Bloomberg story when it was acknowledged that President Obama must also consider “centrist Democrats in the Senate” and a group of House members who are concerned about the costs of health care reform.
The statement is a reference to the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in the House and the Moderate Dems Working Group in the Senate.
The 52 Blue Dogs
are united in their aim of “restoring fiscal responsibility to the Federal Government.” How this principle is translated into the coalition’s stance on health care reform is clarified in a July 29 press release
. The Blue Dog Coalition states, “Comprehensive health care reform must be deficit-neutral and bend the cost curve in the long run. We also believe health care reform must preserve patient choice of provider and maintain competition within the marketplace.”
Overhauling the health care system in the U.S. is projected to cost $1 trillion. The cost is of concern to the Blue Dog Coalition in the House and the Moderate Dems Working Group in the Senate.
In a press release issued on March 18
by Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is the organizer and key leader of the Moderate Dems Working Group, he states, “the Moderate Dems are joined by a shared commitment to pursue pragmatic, fiscally sustainable policies across a range of issues, such as deficit containment, health care reform, the housing crisis, educational reform, energy policy and climate change.” And, importantly, he notes that the group has 16 members and it requires 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation.
These three groups illustrate how disjointed the Democratic Party is when it comes to health care reform. Each group proclaims its membership numbers because numbers represent votes, and votes represent power. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has drawn a line in the sand in terms of the public option being mandatory. Whereas, the Blue Dog Coalition and the Moderate Dems Working Group are focused upon health care reform bills that are “deficit-neutral” or “fiscally sustainable,” respectively.
It can be argued that while the Democrats have suffocated the passage of health care reform legislation, they have not choked the life out of it. The intense debates at town hall meetings continue and, according to The Hill
, the day after Sebelius made her controversial statement, “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Monday that there has been no change in President Barack Obama’s desire to see a public health insurance option be part of a healthcare bill.”