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Democrats Rally for Health Care Reform

The Service Employees International Union and health care advocacy group Families USA ramped up their lobbying efforts to get health care reform passed in the next administration’s first 100 days at a forum held in Denver on Wednesday that included such speakers as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

“Thank you for caring so much about what really matters,” Clinton told the crowd assembled in a ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex. “Health care is not just an issue for me, but a passion … [a] cause of my life.”

She added that it’s “important to move any legislation in the very beginning of a new president’s term. We cannot wait.”

Other Members who rallied the crowd included House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.).

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Democratic Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Ted Strickland of Ohio also spoke.

They all expressed their support for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to sign health care reform into law if elected president.

“We are all here to promote health care reform as the top and earliest priority for the next president and Congress,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

SEIU President Andy Stern added that in the “first 100 days of an Obama administration we’re going to finally solve this health care problem.”

Many of the speakers also slammed the Bush administration for stymying reforms and for twice vetoing an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and they said presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain would bring more of the same.

“George Bush has exactly 146 days left in office,” Dingell told the crowd. “His departure can’t come too soon.”

Many of the speakers — including Daschle, a public policy adviser at Alston + Bird, which advises clients on health care and other issues — blasted “special interests” as the cause of inaction on reforms.

Solis said the Bush administration has too long been dominated by “lobbyists in the White House” who are writing legislation that looks out for pharmaceutical and insurance company interests over those of working Americans.

But Dingell struck something of a balance between corporate interests and those supported by the union and Families USA.

He said corporate America needs health care reform in order to remain competitive in the global economy. “The American automobile has more health care in it than steel,” he said. (Dingell’s wife, Debbie, works for General Motors’ public affairs and community relations division.)

The speakers weren’t all policy wonks and politicians, though.

Thirteen-year-old Graham Frost, who last year gave a radio address on behalf of Democrats, told of the importance of the SCHIP program to him.

He delivered a similar speech Wednesday.

Frost spoke of the brain injuries that he and his sister suffered after a car accident four years ago and the years of medical treatment and rehabilitation it took in order to walk and eat again.

His care was possible only because he and his sister were covered under the SCHIP program, he said.

“Our only hope for the future of SCHIP is that Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden are elected to the White House,” he said, drawing cheers.

Some of the strongest political comments came from Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of SEIU and chairwoman of the Change to Win union coalition.

She reiterated recent comments that unions will not stop on Election Day. They plan to go after politicians who have pledged to enact health care reform who don’t vote for it.

That would include funding challengers in primary and general election races.

“If we don’t get their vote, we will take them on and take them out,” she said. “We are going to hound them and hound them.”

She acknowledged that “the opposition will be fierce and their pockets will be deep.” But she said, “We have the ability to get this done.”

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