By Jeffrey Young - 12/17/09 03:31 PM EST
SEIU President Andy Stern in a letter to his members said the Senate has turned away from some of his organization's top priorities in healthcare reform.
Stern stopped far short of opposing the legislation, but called for President Barack Obama and House and Senate Democratic leaders to hold fast to the principles of healthcare reform they've espoused.
The SEIU is withholding an endorsement of the the bill, which seemed likely just days ago before it pulled out of a Wednesday event to promote the Senate bill alongside the AARP and other groups. The union, however, is not joining the chorus of prominent liberals such as Howard Dean and calling for the Senate bill to be killed — a development sure to relieve congressional Democrats.
"At the very moment that we saw real and meaningful changes within our grasp, one senator came forward to say 'no we can't,'" Stern wrote, referring to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who refused to support any bill with a public option or a Medicare buy-in for people 55 and older. "And the result of this Senator saying 'we can't'? The public option is declared impossible. Americans cannot purchase Medicare at an earlier age. The health insurance reform effort we have needed for a century is at risk.
"SEIU does not accept that this monumental effort — that this reform that is so necessary to the health and well-being of our economy, our families and our future — can be over without a fight," Stern wrote.
Stern and the union's executive board staged what a spokeswoman called an emergency meeting Wednesday night to determine what steps to take after Reid gave into the demands of centrists such Lieberman and dropped the public option. The SEIU and other labor unions already opposed provisions in the Senate bill that would tax some high-cost health insurance plans.
Echoing the arguments of liberal Senate Democrats such as Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) who have lined up behind the compromise legislation, Stern notes that the Senate bill accomplishes much of what the union supports, such as extending coverage to 30 million people and enacting strict insurance regulations.
But the union remains displeased about the absence of the public option, the presence of a tax on some health insurance plans and the level of health insurance subsidies contained in the bill for low- and middle-income people.
"We asked ourselves — and we are asking you — the most critical question we have of this entire debate: where do we go from here?," Stern wrote. "We know we will fight. We will continue to fight for everything we know is important. We will fight to make care affordable. We will fight for real health insurance reforms. We will fight for employers to provide their employees with coverage. And, we will fight to pay for all of it responsibly without a tax on your benefits."
Stern reminds the union members that they came out in droves to help with Obama's election campaign — and exhorts Obama that he has an obligation to live up to his commitments.
"President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His call of 'Yes We Can' was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself. We all stood shoulder to shoulder with the president during his hard fought campaign," Stern wrote.