AFL-CIO Chief: Public Option ‘Essential’ to Health Care Reform

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

Amid reports that the White House may drop its insistence on a “public option” that would compete with private health insurers, the incoming president of the AFL-CIO said today that his organization continues to view the concept as “essential” to health care reform.

“If you’re interested in health insurance reform, the public option can’t go away -- it’s essential,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington. Trumka is expected to be elected the organization’s new president later this month.

Trumka said creating a public option for health insurance is “essential to break the stranglehold” of private insurance companies, and would drive down costs.

“It can’t be done without the public option. And that’s why we’ve staked out the ground so clearly,” he said.

Trumka is also threatening to campaign against Democrats who stand opposed to a public option -- notwithstanding hints from the White House that such a provision could be sacrificed in the name of getting a bill through Congress.

He said Democrats would be making a mistake if they back off of a public option in the name of bipartisanship.

“It’s time for them to look at what works -- that’s what works,” he said.

At the same meeting with reporters, outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney predicted that the controversial labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act will be signed into law “before the end of the year.”

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have made clear they’ll press for the law shortly after health care reform passes, Sweeney said.

“They made no bones about it, that once they get health care, they’re going to go out there and promote the Employee Free Choice Act,” Sweeney said.

But Trumka said that one particularly controversial part of the bill -- known as card-check, allowing workers to unionize by signing authorization cards -- is not critical to passing an effective bill.

Card-check “may, it may not be” part of the final bill, he said.

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