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Democrats Feel The Heat, Tell Obama Healthcare Reform Must Include Public Plan

As Howard Dean has said, any reform effort that doesn't include a public plan is not really reform. So it's nice to know we're having an impact: As C

As Howard Dean has said, any reform effort that doesn't include a public plan is not really reform. So it's nice to know we're having an impact:

As Congress returns to begin an intense debate over reshaping the nation's $2.2 trillion health-care system, prominent left-leaning organizations and liberal House members are issuing a warning to their Democratic allies: Don't cave on us.

The early skirmishing -- essentially amounting to friendly fire -- is perhaps the clearest indication yet of the uphill battle President Obama faces in delivering on his promise to make affordable, high-quality care available to every American.

Disputes over whether to create a new government-sponsored insurance program to compete with private companies shine a light on the intraparty fissures that may prove more problematic than any partisan brawl.

More than 70 House Democrats recently warned party leaders that they will not support a broad health reform bill that does not offer consumers a government-sponsored policy, and two unions withdrew from a high-profile health coalition because it would not endorse a public plan.

"It's way too early" to abandon what it considers a central plank in health reform, said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He said the organization pulled out of the bipartisan Health Reform Dialogue because it feared its friends in the coalition were sacrificing core principles too soon. "You don't make compromises with your allies."

Last week, two top administration officials suggested that Obama is open to compromise on the public plan, comments that set off alarm bells in some corners of his party.

"That's what got the left nervous. I took that as a signal to Senator Grassley" that Obama is willing to negotiate around an issue Grassley has vehemently opposed, said Len Nichols, health policy director at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, referring to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "It was the first time the president indicated he could live without it."

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