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After Major Stride on Health Care, Clyburn Assures, 'We're Going to Get There"
By Hazel Trice Edney
WASHINGTON (NNPA)--Health Care. The issue has been on the front burner of Washington politics and even civil rights advocacy for the nearly 10 months that President Barack Obama has been in the White House.
Finally, a break through came last week. That is when the Senate Finance Committee passed a $829 billion bill, giving hope that a national health care program may indeed become a reality. But, there are still monumental tasks on the horizon--including convincing House Democrats to agree.
"I do think it will pass," says U. S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) in an interview with the NNPA News Service.
As House Majority Whip and the highest ranking African-American in Congress, it is Clyburn's responsibility to help pull together a Democratic majority that is largely stratified on this issue.
For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advocated for a so-called "public option" that could be used by the unemployed or those unable to purchase health insurance on their own while Democratic conservatives, known as Blue Dogs, have largely oppose the option. Also, while the Congressional Black Caucus has been staunchly for the public option, President Obama has said there could be "another means to that end," implying possible compromise.
All of the political jargon has appeared to indicate regressive disunity within the Democratic Party on which Blacks largely depend to advance their interests. Pertaining to the health care legislation, Clyburn still assures, "We're going to get there."
"Like we always do," he said. "This Caucus of ours, I try to tell people that it ought not be looked upon with any comparison with the Republican Caucus."
Clyburn described the Republican Caucus as appearing so cohesive because they do not reflect "the broad experiences of our country" because the Republicans have no African-Americans in Congress. "And so, if you've got a conference or a group of people that doesn't have a single African-American in it, where does that perspective get discussed?"
On the other hand the Democrats are so diverse in their views because they are a reflection America, he explains.
"I hope people will look at us like a microcosm of the country ... We're going to get there because we're going to honor those experiences and we're going to put together a piece of legislation that's going to take all of that into account," Clyburn said.
Americans have made it clear that health care reform is needed and wanted.
A recent CBS news poll reports that more than eight in 10 people believe the health care system needs to undergo fundamental changes. The poll also states that 62 percent of Americans support the public option in the health insurance reform legislation.
The Senate Finance Committee last week was the fifth and final congressional committee to report out a health insurance reform bill. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), was the only Republican to break ranks with her party to vote for the bill. She noted the urgency of history as her reason for doing so. "When history calls, history calls," she said.
This week, House and Senate members will blend the bills in preparation for votes on both House and Senate floors. In the process of blending--or conferencing--the lawmakers must decide what stays in and what must go, largely based on cost, coverage and quality. But, politics and party allegiance also plays a large part. A key point of contention is still the public option.
Clyburn says instead of calling it "public option"; they may need to simply change the name.
"What is beginning to happen now is 'public option' is sounding like a new government program to so many people. Maybe we ought to find another title for Medicare," he said. "We may need to rebrand it because people understand Medicare."
Regardless of the strategy, it will be daunting. President Obama has acknowledged that as well.
"This is not the time to pat ourselves on the back. This is not the time to grow complacent. There are still significant details and disagreements to be worked out in the coming weeks," Obama said as he hailed the Senate Finance Committee's passage of the bill. "And there are still those who would try to kill reform at any cost. The history is clear. For decades rising health care costs have unleashed havoc on families, businesses, and the economy. And for decades, whenever we have tried to reform the system, the insurance companies have done everything in their considerable power to stop us."
Clyburn agrees that the weeks ahead will be difficult. But he is optimistic.
Â "Is it easy? No it's not easy," Clyburn said. He cited the Blue dogs, the CBC, the Progressive Caucus, the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus, all Democrats with stratified views. "But, we're going to get there," he assured. "We're going to have a public option."