Push for the Kucinich Amendment and Keep Single Payer Alive

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By Siobhan Kolar

The people started lining up an hour early in Aurora, Illinois, 40 miles west of Chicago and not a hotbed of radical socialism, to hear Representative Dennis Kucinich talk about HR 676, the single payer bill he co-authored with John Conyers. "Hastert Country" recently turned blue with the election of Democrat Bill Foster, but conservative ideas still dominate. But people want to know about healthcare. Two fiftyish white women said their pastor told them to attend. Another woman stood on the edge and left, telling one organizer, "I think you are really on the wrong track" and others discussed their viewpoints in small knots in the hallway.

It was a real grassroots event with details coming together at the last minute and the speakers’ list growing as Rep. Mary Flowers and Rep. Mike Boland, two primary sponsors of Illinois single payer bill HB311, joined single payer speakers, antiwar activists, representatives of labor and Greens.

What drew them together was the belief that single payer was the answer, and the desire to hear Dennis Kucinich, co-author with John Conyers of HR 676, the single payer bill that would make healthcare available to all at a huge cost savings because 1/3 of every healthcare dollar going to insurance companies would now go to healthcare. The bill currently has 86 sponsors. Kucinich believes that the time for HR 676 is coming and that the movement has to build nationally and state by state.

On the bill in the House, Kucinich told the 300 plus crowd, “Let me be clear, I am not here in support of HR 3200,” he said “because it keeps insurance companies in the game.” Kucinich said that when he and John Conyers wrote the single-payer bill they viewed healthcare for all as the next civil rights struggle. Of all aspects of HR 3200, Representative Kucinich was most positive about his amendment which allows states to pass single-payer legislation. "If we make enough noise about this amendment, they’ll keep it in." One 14 year old student from Aurora headed to the Illinois Math and Science Academy next year asked "Can you explain the coops? Some say coops, I say copout, but no one's explaining them." A lively question and answer session followed Kucinich's speech.

When asked about the vote on HR676 he urged caution. "They will use the vote to rationalize their own bill." He pointed out the House leadership will likely order the vote very early, with no hearings, no discussion, and no mark-up.

In Illinois the single payer movement is building momentum. Organizations are networking and connecting to lobby more effectively. The meeting provided a place for single payer advocates to coordinate and more importantly bring new groups on board in a new coalition. Single payer groups, Democrats, Greens, antiwar groups and Kucinich met to strategize how to make Illinois the first single payer state. "A local single payer movement cannot be controlled by the media," said Kucinich in a discussion of single payer strategy. "This will change the politics of your state, and Illinois can lead the nation." California has passed single payer twice and Governor Schwarzeneger has vetoed it twice. On Tuesday Governor Quinn will join Representative Jan Schakowsky at a healthcare reform rally in Chicago.

With social services being cut to the bone in Illinois, and line items like domestic violence counseling and shelter, mental health counseling, HeadStart, and services for people with disabilites being zeroed out or severely cut by Governor Quinn, the savings and relief single payer could bring can't happen fast enough.