After a meeting yesterday with leaders of the Service Employees International Union and a meeting today with its members, SEIU President Andy Stern said the union does not think the Senate is willing or able to make any more progress on its bill. He told reporters on a conference call today that his union is willing to hold its nose and let the Senate pass its bill so it can move to the "conference committee" process, in which it will be merged with the House health care bill.
"Now it is time for a couple of obstructionists to get out of the way," Stern said. "It's time for the Senate to send this bill on to conference where the real work will be done. We've come too far, America's waited too long, to turn back now."
Meanwhile, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a statement this afternoon following a meeting yesterday of their union.
"The labor movement has been fighting for health care for nearly 100 years and we are not about to stop fighting now, when it really matters," Trumka said.
Taking a somewhat more aggressive tone than Stern, Trumka called the bill "inadequate."
"For this health care bill to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made," he said.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO is still fighting for a government-run insurance plan, or "public option," employer contributions and the removal of the "Cadillac" benefits tax.
Both Trumka and Stern acknowledged the Senate bill has some redeeming qualities. Stern pointed out it would be the largest expansion of coverage since Medicare was established and the largest single expansion of Medicaid.
"We should not disregard what's been done already and ignore the fact there's a chance to do better," he said.
Bills are typically watered down in the conference process, and Stern acknowledged it is unlikely the public option would be revived in the process.
"It's hard to imagine it getting better in conference," he said with respect to the public option debate.
Still, he said the conference bill would likely include some improvements from the House on issues like affordability and how to pay for the measure.
"I honestly think people are going to work really hard on affordability issues," he said.
Rather than continue to negotiate in the Senate, Stern said it is time to "let the chips fall where they may" and move onto conference.
"There is only one truth that is unimpeachable in health care," he said. "The longer we wait the worse it gets."