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Liberal Groups Make Final Push for Public Option

5192102President Obama will address a joint session of Congress next week, following calls from legislators to give the Congress more direction on what should be included in a health care reform bill.

Some reports indicate that the president will stand by his position that he supports a government-sponsored health insurance plan, or "public option," but does not consider it a necessary part of his plans for a health care overhaul. Politico, citing unnamed administration officials, reports that the some in the administration would even "welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one. The confrontation would allow Obama to show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done."

The potential "showdown" would pit Mr. Obama against at least 60 members of Congress who have said they will only support a health care bill with a public option. Legislation lacking a public option would also risk losing the support of the president's most liberal constituents.

The influential labor union the AFL-CIO has said it will only get behind legislation with a public option; moreover, the union's soon-to-be president has said politicians will pay a political price if they do not support the public option. Other groups are following suit, and to prove their point will keep up the pressure on Congress by digging into members' campaign finance histories, demonstrating in front of health insurance companies and fundraising for ad campaigns.

Democracy for America, the liberal advocacy group founded by former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, expects the president to reiterate his support for the public option when he addresses Congress next week, DFA spokeswoman Mary Rickles said. Meanwhile, she said, her group and its 400,000 members will continue to pressure members of Congress to back the proposal.

"Any member of Congress who votes for a bill without a public option and against the wishes of the American people will stand alone for reelection," she said.

The Health Care For America Now Campaign (HCFAN), comprised of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states, will also continue to urge Congress this month to pass a bill with a public option, as well as strong health insurance regulations and means of ensuring affordable health care that is accessible to all Americans.

"We're working aggressively to be sure the bill that gets to the president's desk at the end of the day includes all those elements," said HCAN National Campaign Manager Richard Kirsch.

This month the group is planning demonstrations at health insurance companies' headquarters and will publicize stories of patients harmed by health insurance policies, as well as information about insurance industry profits and executive pay.

Given that there is a public option in both the House and the Senate bills that have been introduced, Kirsch said he expects there to be enough congressional support for the measure to pass.

In case there isn't, Jane Hamsher, who runs the liberal blog FireDogLake, is looking for dirt on the Democratic members who have yet to say they will only support a bill with a public option. The blog has managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for politicians who commit to only supporting a bill with a public option.

"For me, sitting by and watching (Congressmen who have not made this commitment) help to bailout PhRMA and the insurance industry on the backs of the middle class, just when people are struggling to find decent jobs in the midst of a recession, is not an option," Hamsher wrote on FireDogLake Wednesday. "We'll be looking into the campaign finance histories of these members, as well as their voting records, to try and ascertain if there are reasons they are not signing on that the public should know about."

With or without any skeletons in their closet, members of Congress should feel pressured to vote for a public option if they want to keep their seats, argues the group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The group is sponsoring ads to promote the idea that the public option is widely supported, even by Republicans. (The latest CBS News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans favor the public option, including 35 percent of Republicans.)

"If President Obama ultimately refuses to demand a public option, that would be the surest way to see his own popularity plummet and see congressional Democrats lose seats in 2010," said Adam Green, co-founder of PCCC. "Democratic and independent voters overwhelmingly want a public option -- not to mention a large chunk of Republican families."