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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

October 23rd, 2009 7:58 AM

Weiner’s Amendment Breathes 45,000 Lives into H.R. 3200

Wow. Things are getting pretty tense out in the trenches where we’ve all seen Wall Street bailouts and bulging unemployment while Congress inches forward on the healthcare reform debate. Millions of us have lost jobs, homes, retirement savings and access to healthcare benefits. And if many in the for-profit health insurance industry have their way, we’ll face an industry bailout for them too – unless we act together, act loudly, act fast and follow the action items Mike shared with us all this week.

Support H.R. 3200 with the Weiner amendment, that’s what Mike told us all. But wait. Does that mean Mike is asking us to support whatever the end product is of the current legislative effort? No. None of us know that result yet. There will be time enough to weigh in on the final product later but for now we’re all critical to what that final product is or is not. We still matter.

Getting to the heart of extending (and improving) Medicare coverage for all in America is only possible through one amendment currently under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York will offer what is essentially the text of John Conyers’ and Dennis Kucinich’s single-payer bill, H.R. 676, as what is called a substitute amendment when the House debates its current bill, H.R. 3200, on the floor within the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, the deaths of our fellow citizens due to the lack of access to health care continue. 45,000 deaths in America every single year as the debate rolls on. If we are to stop the death march of the for-profit medical-industrial complex led by the for-profit insurance giants in this nation, we must support those in Congress who hear the drumbeat of health care justice and who are advocating for us all.

It’s often hard to follow this legislative process and some are ready to throw in the towel on this Congress before the work is done. But the reality is that the rough and tumble work of blending the bills first from individual committees in both chambers of Congress and then tossing in any amendments passed during floor debates still affords us all the first real chance in 44 years to pass health care for all into law.

Rep. Weiner is our champion in the House right now, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont is our Senate hero. Both of these brave and determined American lawmakers will offer amendments in their respective chambers to replace other reform bills with single-payer legislation. Both the Weiner and the Sanders amendments are substitute amendments. Substitute amendments offer an entire alternative to the existing text of bills under consideration. The for-profit insurance purchase mandates proposed can still be replaced with the real extension of the basic human right of health care. The single-payer substitute amendments can take that right into our American reality.

That’s why when Mike tells us in his list of actions we can take right now that we need to support H.R. 3200 in the House with the Weiner amendment. The Weiner amendment is our road to extending the basic human right of health care to all. We all wish the formal bill under consideration right now was H.R. 676 itself. We’ve all fought for it, lobbied for it, written and called supporting it … but the reality is that we won’t get true Medicare for all out of the People’s House any other way right now but through the Weiner amendment to H.R. 3200.

And in the Senate, we will not get anywhere close to providing health care to all without Senator Sanders’ amendment.

President Obama told us again recently, “I want to cover everybody. Now, the truth is unless you have what’s called a single-payer system in which everyone’s automatically covered, you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.”

Rep. Weiner was on a conference call just last night with the activists of the Progressive Democrats of America. He said that his amendment is currently being “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office. The score assigned will measure the amendment’s impact on the federal budget. The results of that score will be out sometime soon. Then it will be up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to honor her commitment to Rep. Weiner to bring his substitute amendment to full debate on the floor of the House when H.R. 3200 is under consideration. Rep. Weiner says that will be happening sometime in the next few weeks – maybe as early as the first week in November. He also said more Congressional members are learning more about the economic and moral benefits of his amendment. We need to support that work.

President Obama wants both chambers debating their bills at the same time. But the Senate effort may be a bit more complicated as staffers tell us there may be as many as 1,000 amendments offered to the Senate health care reform bill after its two committees finish merging their efforts. Then we’ll know what Senator Sanders decides to offer in his amendment and we'll have a better time frame for our support of his effort there. Stay tuned.

So time is of the essence. We must act now in support of the Weiner amendment or we’ll need to be taking different actions soon – and we’ll keep you posted on the Mike & Friends blog about how things are going.

When I speak to audiences around the country and some express concern or even discouragement about where the health care reform battle is right now, I remind us all that if we had taken a poll just two years ago asking how a Presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama would finish, Obama would have won only Hawaii and Illinois. And if anyone had asked us just 14 months ago if we’d find three-quarters of a trillion dollars in a matter of days to hand over to the Wall Street giants with almost no questions asked, we’d all have thought it insane and impossible to believe. But we know what happened. We know change happens.

And we know we can fight together right now to support a better outcome in this healthcare reform battle. Everybody in, nobody out. The urgency was never fiercer than now. Take action.

Donna Smith is best known as one of the documentary subjects of Michael Moore’s 2007 movie, "SiCKO." Her journalism career includes 15 regional awards from the AP Managing Editors. Donna now works as a national single-payer healthcare advocate and community organizer for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, and co-chairs the Progressive Democrats of America’s national "Healthcare Not Warfare" campaign.

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