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Concerned About Health Bill, Weiner Withdraws Single-Payer Proposal

By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

November 6, 2009 -- Rep. Anthony Weiner has decided not to offer legislation to create a single-payer health system as a substitute for House Democrats' health care overhaul.

Weiner, a New York Democrat, won a promise from party leaders for a vote on his amendment in July, while the House Energy and Commerce Committee was debating the health bill. His amendment would have replaced the bill's expansions of private and public insurance coverage, instead of simply expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.

But he said in a statement Friday that he was worried the proposal might harm passage of the health bill, which he also supports. Democratic leaders are still working to assemble a majority in favor of the overhaul (HR 3962).

"Given how fluid the negotiations are on the final push to get comprehensive health care reform that covers millions of Americans and contains costs through a public option, I became concerned that my amendment might undermine that important goal," Weiner said.

Democratic leaders, who met late Thursday trying to figure out how to handle Weiner's amendment, applauded him for dropping it.

"His decision not to offer a single-payer amendment during consideration of HR 3962 is a correct one, and helps advance the passage of important health reforms by this Congress," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Weiner said in an interview that some Democrats from relatively conservative districts—but with "rabid progressive" bases—had indicated the single-payer amendment would cause them difficulty. They would have trouble explaining a vote against the amendment to their most active supporters, but a vote for the amendment might jeopardize their re-elections.

"It came down to when we were whip counting on the bigger bill; there were not a lot—but enough that made a difference—of people who said the single payer vote made it harder for them to vote for the bigger bill," Weiner said.

Many single-payer advocates outside Congress have been irate this year that Democrats have not seriously considered the idea. President Obama ruled out a single-payer system early in the health debate, as did Democratic congressional leaders.

Weiner apparently crossed longtime Democratic supporters of a single-payer system by negotiating to bring his amendment to a vote without consulting them. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio, and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., sent a message to single-payer supporters Thursday saying they did not want to see a vote on Weiner's proposal because it would fail and would be perceived as a defeat for the idea of a single-payer system.

Conyers is the sponsor of a "Medicare for all" bill (HR 676) that has 87 cosponsors, including Kucinich, and is widely supported among single-payer activists.

"We are now asking you to join us in suggesting to congressional leaders that this is not the right time to call the roll on a stand-alone single-payer bill," Conyers and Kucinich said in their message. "That time will come."

Weiner dismissed the message from Kucinich and Conyers, calling it a "temper tantrum by Kucinich" over the Conyers bill's inability to advance.

"That really didn't contribute very much to this decision because, frankly, just about every progressive member of Congress was prepared to vote yes on the amendment," Weiner said. "I heard a lot of complaints from members of the Progressive Caucus that that was kind of a rogue operation."

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