SEIU leader urges changes to healthcare

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 ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand Ex-US ambassador: Mueller is the one who is tough on Russia MORE and House and Senate Democratic leaders to hold fast to the principles of healthcare reform they've espoused.

"Our challenge to you, to the President, to the Senate and to the House of Representatives is to fight," Stern wrote in the letter, which the SEIU posted to its website Thursday morning. "Now, more than ever, all of us must stand up, remember what health insurance reform is all about, and fight like hell to deliver real and meaningful reform to the American people."

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 RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (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.