CPC chairman indicates liberals will support health bill

The chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) suggested that Thursday that House liberals are getting very close to supporting healthcare reform legislation.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) spoke to reporters in the Capitol after returning from a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Representatives of other Democratic constituencies also met with the president Thursday as the party is starting to whip votes for the final proposal.

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The support of House liberals is not guaranteed due to their support for the public health insurance option, which was not included in the president's fixes to the bill released last week. CPC members have also expressed concern with voting for the Senate bill before the package of fixes because it contains measures they oppose, such as the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback" Medicaid funds for Nebraska.

Asked if members of his caucus, by-and-large, will support the healthcare proposal, Grijalva said "It's becoming that way, yes."

Democratic leaders face challenges attracting votes from several groups, including liberals, vulnerable centrists and anti-abortion rights Democrats. Should leaders earn the support of House liberals, it could allow them to dedicate time to securing the votes of other wary lawmakers. 

Grijalva said earlier this week that he was inclined to vote against the bill.

Obama promised to sign both the sidecar package of fixes and the Senate legislation, Grijalva said, a move to give liberals an assurance that some parts of the Senate bill they object to will be removed. 

"He said it's a joint piece of legislation and they're one and two," Grijalva said. "He will sign two pieces of legislation."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) had suggested that Obama might not sign the fixes earlier on Thursday. Grijalva did not say if Obama will sign them on the same day but said that the assurance was made.

Grijalva also said that Obama gave CPC members his word that he would fight for a government-run healthcare plan in the future.

"My personal commitment and the commitment of the White House [is] to continue to work because these issues are important," he said. "In the long term, [they] need to be part of an overall reform as we move forward."

But he said that the overriding need to pass a baseline overhaul was too important for his caucus to oppose it. Obama emphasized that the existing bill will cover 31 million people and that it's needed as part of a liberal agenda.

"This is a building block and time is of the urgency and it won't come around for a long time," he said. "It would be difficult or impossible for another generation to get back to this issue."

The Arizona lawmaker said that the president did not give a timetable for creating a public plan. But he called the overall sales pitch from Obama "compelling."

Grijalva said that Obama told his group "To maintain a strong presidency, we need to pass this bill."