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Liberal Groups' New Strategy on Health Care: Just Get it Done

Some progressive groups and Democratic congressmen are applauding President Obama's appeal for an up-or-down vote on his health care reform proposal, even though it falls far short of the goals they once had for reform.

The president today said he has asked Congress to vote on his proposal within a matter of weeks because Congress "owes" that to the American people. The plan is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then for both chambers to take an up-or-down vote on a separate "fix it" reconciliation bill.

Some Democratic senators, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), have criticized the consideration of reconciliation. Landrieu today, however, signaled she's on board with the president's plan.

"From the start, I have been clear that passing the entire bill using reconciliation was not something I could support, and it is not what President Obama is asking us to do," Landrieu said in a statement. "With only a few tweaks to the Senate bill remaining to be approved, the American people deserve an up or down vote on health care legislation."

Referring to reconciliation, Landrieu notes, "This is a process that has been used 22 times before, 16 of which were led by Republicans."

Along with the process of passing the bill, certain provisions are less than ideal for reform advocates. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released a statement decrying the provisions in the health care bills that restrict abortion coverage but praising the bills overall.

"The Stupak and Nelson measures are outrageous, but the health-reform bills do have many positive provisions," she said. "They will significantly improve women's access to other reproductive-health services, including family planning and prenatal care."

NARAL says it is continuing to lobby members of Congress to drop their insistence on keeping the abortion language in the bill. Yet it's unlikely the language could change in the reconciliation process, since it can only be used for provisions that impact the federal budget.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that abortion was not a central issue in the Democrats' plans.

This "is not an abortion bill," she said. "It is a bill about affordable health care for all Americans."

Health Care for America Now, a group that has largely aligned itself with the president's goals, put out a statement saying Americans can no longer wait for reform -- even though Mr. Obama has dropped calls for a public option.

"We now call on Congress to listen to us - not the insurance industry - and allow a majority vote on a health care reform plan that will lower cost, increase competition, and put regulation and oversight in place to guarantee we get access to quality, affordable health care once and for all," Richard Kirsch, HCAN's national campaign manager, said in the statement.

HCAN was one of a handful of liberal groups still pushing for the public option in December.

There is still a campaign for the public option, but one of the measure's biggest supporters, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), also said he is willing to drop it to just get the bill passed.

Harkin said in a recent interview he would not vote to revive the public option "if it meant that it would sink the whole healthcare reform bill," the Hill reports.

"What is clear is that we have come too far to walk away now," Harkin said in a statement today. "It's crunch time on health reform. Let's act now and give the American people the comprehensive reform they need and deserve."

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