Public Option Dead? Barbara Lee Says No

You think the public option for health coverage is dead? Try telling that to Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Never known for going along (she was the lone member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush a virtual blank check to go to war after 9/11) or for mincing words, she wants it known that no health reform battle — other than that for single-payer — is over.

“It’s all about give and take,” she said tonight; “we gave single payer.”

The Representative from California’s 9th District was at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club to talk about her new book, Renegade for Peace and Justice.  But the conversation with KQED TV host Belva Davis and the Q&A session with a largely friendly audience tilted immediately, and  heavily, toward health reform. Has the Administration lost control of the debate? Not in Lee’s opinion. “Mainstream media coverage has been very biased,” she observed in opening the Q&A session. “The focus has been on the ruckus made by a small percentage of people, who probably didn’t vote for President Obama. I didn’t see CNN covering my Town Hall meeting.”

Because “we spent over a trillion dollars on this war that didn’t have to be fought,” Lee said, the issue of health reform is now “all about choice, and about competition.” And before either of those get to the public, congressional give-and-take will lead to a final bill. As current Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and member of several powerful committees, Lee expects to play an active part in that process. “We will insist on a bill that has a strong public option,” she says. “At least 60 members are saying the public option is key to their support.”

The new book was enjoying brisk sales, but health reform comments drew the loudest applause. One audience member told me at the end of the event that “Congresswoman Lee won’t ever get medals for moderation, but I’m not throwing in the towel if she’s not.” We were both leaving a few minutes before the final gavel; he said he was on his way home to start sending out more e-mails.

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