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Rep. Grayson: Obama Needs to Push Health Care In Earnest -- With a Public Option

The health care battle between Republicans and Democrats has looked like a fight 'between the crazies and the lazies,' Grayson said. Now it's time to get serious.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has a message for Senate Democrats: Pass health care with a public option -- and pass it quickly. On Wednesday, Grayson joined Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Jim Dean of Democracy for America in delivering some 225,000 petitions to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that demand the Senate leadership use a procedure it has avoided so far in the health care fight in order to pass a bill that contains a public health insurance option. CREDO Action also co-sponsored the petition.

So far in the battle for health care reform, Senate proponents have found themselves hemmed in by the Republicans' profligate use of the filibuster, which allows the minority to hold up a vote on any measure until opponents can muster 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor. In addition, Senate Democrats just lost a seat in the Massachusetts special election for the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. (The seat was won by Republican Scott Brown, with a lot of help from the Tea Party crowd.) 

But a procedure called reconciliation allows measures that pertain to the budget to pass on a simple majority of 51 votes. That's how President Bush passed his tax cuts for the wealthy -- through the reconciliation process. Now some House Democrats, including Grayson, Jared Polis of Colorado and Chellie Pingree of Maine are calling on their Senate colleagues to pull out the stops to add a public option to the Senate health care reform bill. (Pingree and Polis have penned a letter to that effect, in which they are urging other members to add their signatures.)

Grayson burst into the health care debate with a vengeance last year when he defined the Republican health care plan as: "If you get sick, die quickly." Soon, he was a darling of progressives, bringing his combative style to a string of appearances on cable news shows.

Today, AlterNet caught up with the congressman before today's petition-delivery event outside a Senate office building. If the Senate was barely able to negotiate a bill when Democrats arguably had 60 votes, could a bill with a public option really pass now that the Dems have only a 59-vote majority?

"There's no question; it's clear that something can happen," Grayson told AlterNet. "This is a democracy, and ultimately in a democracy, the majority rules. We didn't have a 60-vote majority until just a couple of months ago, and now people are frustrated because we don't have it anymore. Well, historically, it's an anomaly -- it's happened only 14 years out of 222, and somehow we managed to preserve the union, and survive and pass laws now and then as needed. And there's no reason why we can't do it again here."

Yet efforts by President Obama to push Congress to include a public option in the Senate bill that passed on Christmas Eve were tepid at best, and the Senate bill consequently omitted a public insurance plan. Could the Senate possibly pass a public option through reconciliation without a strong push from the White House?

"We'll see," Grayson said. "I think that the White House should make a strong effort, regardless of whether it's required or not, because this is very important to the lives of so many Americans."

Grayson embraced the idea of resorting to the reconciliation process, which was avoided in the last go-round because it was seen as unnecessarily provocative by the White House.

"Why not?" Grayson asked. "If it's good enough for tax cuts for the rich, it's good enough for health care for all."