Conyers Derides White House Strategy on Health Care

The New York Times
November 19, 2009

Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan and the second-most senior member of the House, today ripped into President Obama and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, accusing them of “bowing down” to “nutty right-wing” proposals just to get a health care bill passed.

“I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can in the White House,” Mr. Conyers, one of the most liberal members of the House and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a radio interview on “The Bill Press Show.”

“I mean, he only won by five votes in the House, and this bill wasn’t anything to write home about,” Mr. Conyers said of the health care legislation that the House passed on Nov. 7. “The public option is only available — which is the only way you manage cost and give some competition to 1,300 other health insurance companies — the only way he could have got that through is that progressives held their nose and voted for the plan anyway.”

Mr. Conyers also complained that the idea of a single-payer system had been “taken off the table from the beginning.”

Asked if the president had shown enough leadership on health care, Mr. Conyers said, “Of course not, of course not.”

“You know,” he added, “holding hands out, and beer on Friday nights in the White House, and bowing down to every nutty right-wing proposal about health care, and saying on occasion that public options aren’t all that important, is doing a disservice to the Barack Obama that I first met, who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself.”

In the interview, Mr. Press said Democrats were saying that they feared the president would “just sign anything.”

Mr. Conyers agreed, saying “that’s essentially what Rahm Emmanuel has said,” adding that he was tired of his approach of “give us anything and we will declare victory.”

“But look,” Mr. Conyers concluded, “the bill doesn’t go into effect for three years. Many of the people that we are trying to help will be dead by then.”

When the interview was over, Mr. Press said to his audience, “He’s in rare form this morning.”

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