Progressives push healthcare

Remembering how they were outgunned in 1994, advocates for universal healthcare plan a lavishly financed post-election effort

Published July 9, 2008 5:17PM (EDT)

Progressive healthcare wonks are haunted by memories of 1994, when the last major effort in Congress to enact something approaching universal healthcare, the Clinton health plan, went down in flames.

Some blamed the plan's design, or the secretive process that created it, for the fiasco. But there's no question another key factor was that the Clintons and their allies were outgunned on the public relations front, thanks to an insurance-industry-funded campaign that famously filled the airwaves with those "Harry and Louise" ads.

As Ezra Klein explains in his blog at the American Prospect today, an impressive array of progressive labor and advocacy groups are already coming together to plan and execute a pre- and post-election push for universal healthcare. Called Health Care for America Now, the coalition is broad and deep:

The primary partners -- which is to say, those who put up $500,000 to join -- include The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Americans United for Change, Campaign for America’s Future, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Center for Community Change,, National Education Association, National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, and USAction. Within that list are old guard groups like Labor and new wave organizations like MoveOn. Both Change to Win and the AFL-CIO are represented. Standing behind them are a much larger list of coalition partners that include the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Women's Law Center. It's about as broad a progressive coalition as you can imagine, and exactly what didn't exist in 1994.

They've already raised $40 million, have already run one major political ad and have already begun to deploy organizers in key congressional districts. Just as important, they plan to continue the initiative long after the electoral dust settles; totally aside from Health Care for America Now, SEIU has already pledged $75 million to long-range efforts to enact universal healthcare.

As Klein notes, the campaign for universal healthcare won't necessarily be any easier than it was in 1994. But "you're looking at a simply fearsome organizing drive. It may, of course, prove insufficient. But unlike in 1994, it won't be non-existent. And that's a huge, and promising, difference."

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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