Labor Coalesces: Pass Senate Health Care Bill, But Only If It’s Fixed Quickly

January 20, 2010 9:10 a.m.
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The most influential labor organizations in the country have arrived at a common solution to the Democrats’ health care conundrum: Move forward, pass the Senate bill through the House, but only if a separate, filibuster proof bill codifying a crucial changes is passed post haste.

“Step one: The House should pass the Senate’s health insurance reform bill – with an agreement that it will be fixed, fixed right, and fixed right away through a parallel process,” writes SEIU President Andy Stern at the Huffington Post.

Reform can work — the Senate bill can serve as the foundation for reform and include at minimum the improvements the Administration, House, and Senate have negotiated. We cannot squander the opportunity to make real progress. The House and Senate must move forward together. And, there is no reason they cannot move forward together to make those changes through any means possible — whether through reconciliation or other pieces of moving legislation…. There is no turning back. There is no running away. There is no reset button.

The AFL-CIO has a functionally similar, but tonally tougher take. “We don’t want the House to pass the Senate bill as is,” AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale tells me. “It needs to be paired with a Senate [bill]–through reconciliation–that makes fixes.”Such a pairing, according to Vale, should be “simultaneous, or almost side by side.”

Functionally, these are nearly identical positions. Vale says an outreach effort to disgruntled progressives and members supportive of organized labor is ongoing. “From the very beginning we have been discussing and communicating these decisions with members, progressives…and are of course continuing to do so now.”

Unclear is how large a time lag between the two bills labor would accept. As to whether passing a reconciliation bill to amend the Senate bill is feasible, union officials see a ray of hope. “If the House passed the Senate bill, could reconciliation, that process, be used to fix things that might be improved upon? Yes,” Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) told reporters today. “Would I support it? I can’t know that without knowing what would be included in the package.”

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