Public Plan: The Progressive Caucus' Power In the Balance

The fight over including a public plan in this year's health care reform bill will be a critical test of the Progressive Caucus' power. While the Progressive Caucus, with its 78 members, is currently the largest caucus in the House, it has failed to exert leverage in proportion to its numbers. The need to get bipartisan support in the Senate limits the Progressive Caucus' ability to move legislation leftward.

The ability to use reconciliation to pass health care reform changes everything. The Democrats can pass a bill without any Republican support and afford to lose several moderate Democrats. If the Progressive Caucus manages to hold together, they can effectively dictate the terms of health care reform.

On April 2nd, the Progressive Caucus sent a letter Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid claiming that the majority of the caucus would not support health care legislation which did not contain a public plan option. Now that the Democrats can pass health care reform with simple majority in the Senate, there is no excuse for compromising on the public plan.

Senator Max Baucus has made statements that he might abandon the public plan (which Obama campaigned on) in order to get Republicans to sign on to health care reform. If the Progressive Caucus wants to be taken seriously, they must vote against and kill any “bi-partisan” health care bill if it does not contain a public plan. By voting against an insufficiently progressive health care bill, they can force health care reform to be passed through reconciliation, where they would have more influence.

Wisely or not, the Progressive Caucus drew a line in the sand. Since health care reform can be passed without Republican support, there is no excuse for compromising on one of their (and Obama's) core principles. If a health care bill passes without a public plan option, it will prove that the Progressive Caucus is nothing more than a paper tiger. In politics, if you make a threat you must be prepared to carry it out or lose all credibility.

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