Last Sunday, the New York Times said the public option in the health care plan may be dropped, quoting Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius statement that “the public option was ‘not the essential element’ of reform” and President Obama himself saying at a town hall meeting:
“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform,” the president said. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”
Similar statements came from others in the Obama administration:
In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, said the president remained convinced that a public plan was “the best way to go.” But Mr. Axelrod said the nuances of how to develop a nonprofit competitor to private industry had never been “carved in stone.”
and other (Blue Dog?) Democrats:
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to produce a bill that features a nonprofit co-op. The author of the idea, Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, predicted Sunday that Mr. Obama would have no choice but to drop the public option.
Rachel Maddow rightly confronted President Obama and on her show Monday:
“Yes, we can’t!” Certainly if that amount of conviction was all we had from then candidate Obama and other Democrats last year, we’d be facing a McCain/Palin administration.
Good thing at that point, he knew how to fight.
After administration officials, including Mr. Obama, wavered on their commitment to the public option last weekend, leaders of the Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, on Monday saying they would not vote for a plan without the public option. They attached a second letter signed by 60 House Democrats demanding the inclusion of a government-run insurance plan in the final legislation. Their 60 votes would be enough to kill a House bill if it had no Republican support.
The Washington Post reported:
In the Senate, where negotiations are now focused, John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) said that a public option, as the plan has become known, is “a must.” Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.) said that “without a public option, I don’t see how we will bring real change to a system that has made good health care a privilege for those who can afford it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said that the plan will be included in whatever bill is voted on in the House. “There is strong support in the House for a public option,” she said, though she did not demand that the administration express support for the idea.
Co-ops are being pushed as a possible alternative to the public option by the White House and “Blue Dog” Democrats. In a Washington Post article on co-ops, Group Health Cooperative, a major HMO here in Seattle, is being cited as one possible example. Group Health has been around for years and has a whole system of hospitals and clinics, though. So are we going to create these systems, including building health care facilities, around the country, and without the aid of the government, as that’s part of the selling point?
Would co-ops be an adequate alternative to the public option? As noted in the Washington Post article:
However, co-ops would lack perhaps the main advantage of the public option: reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals set by federal law, like those paid by Medicare, the program for older Americans. Federally determined reimbursement rates were central to the cost-saving promise of a government-run health plan and a potentially powerful competitive advantage.
Will the Republicans support a bill if the public option is changed to co-ops? No, according to the Huffington Post. In a conference call with reporters, Senate Majority Whip calls co-ops a “’trojan horse’ for a government-run system.”
While Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has put forth co-ops as a compromise proposal that could get 60 votes in the Senate, Republican support is elusive. Indeed, earlier in the call, Kyl said that the GOP stood no closer to offering up their votes.
“I think it is safe to say that there are a huge number of big issues that people have and these are a couple of the most prominent,” he said. “But start with the cost of it. There is no way Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-plus bill. And when the chairman of the Finance Committee in the Senate said, ‘ah, great success, we think we got it under a trillion dollars,’ you did not hear a big round of applause from Republicans.”
According to the New York Times, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who is now working for the lobbying firm Alston & Bird, has been pushing for co-ops.
It is an idea that happens to dovetail with the interests of many Alston & Bird clients, like the insurance giant UnitedHealth and the Tennessee Hospital Association.
Ummm, just a coincidence, I’m sure. . . ; )
Then we have the now infamous “gang of six”, reported in the Washington Post as “three Democratic and three Republican members of the Senate Finance committee” who are currently putting together the Senate bill.
As Robert Reich asks on his blog “who, exactly, anointed these six to decide the fate of the nation’s health care?”
I don’t get it. Of the three Republicans in the gang, the senior senator is Charles Grassley. In recent weeks Grassley has refused to debunk the rumor that the House’s health-care bill will spawn “death panels,” empowered to decide whether the sick and old get to live or die. At an Iowa town meeting last Tuesday Grassley called the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi “intellectually dishonest” for claiming the opposite. On Thursday Grassley told the Washington Post that Congress should scale back its efforts to overhaul health care in the wake of intense anger at town hall meetings. But — wait — the anger is largely about distortions such as the “death panels” that Grassley refuses to debunk.
This week on Fox News Grassley termed the House bill “the Pelosi Bill,” and called it “a government takeover of heath care, exploding the deficit because it’s not paid for and it’s got high taxes in it.”
and then he asks the obvious question:
I really don’t get it. We have a Democratic president in the White House. Democrats control sixty votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It is possible to pass health care legislation through the Senate with 51 votes (that’s what George W. Bush did with his tax cut plan). Democrats control the House. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a tough lady. She has said there will be no health care reform bill without a public option.
So why does the fate of health care rest in Grassley’s hands?
Do we want to leave it in Grassley’s hands? It’s time to push back and that has started, both from the public and with the Progressive and Black Congressional caucuses saying emphatically, “No! We won’t stand for the public option being taken out of the bill.”
Also, people concerned about real health insurance reform are putting their money where their mouth is. Daily Kos reports that so far $374,000 has been raised for those who signed the congressional letter in support of a public option on the Act Blue website (including my Representative Jim McDermott, I’m happy to say).
Robert Reich is calling for a march on Washington on Sept. 13 in support of the public option on Politico and Daily Kos is calling for organizing nationwide rallies. Obama’s organizers are calling for rallies and events earlier in September, but it’s going to be important to insist on his administration and all our congressmembers to included the public option at those as well.
Yes, at one time, not too long ago, the President knew how to fight. Now he’s acting too much like a typical Democrat, appeasing Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats instead of pushing for what he knows as well as any of us is needed. One thing is for sure, I don’t think we should leave it to his administration or organizers if we want change. We need to be pushing him to do the right thing, which, as I recall, was why FDR ended up with such a progressive legacy. We always forget that the leaders don’t get there on their own.
One last thought, to all those progressive organizations and politicians out there, is why not get beyond “preaching to the choir” and beyond the commercial sound bite war? There are a lot of people out there who are interested in health care, who would like to hear more about what this all means (single payer, public option, co-ops, etc.). I know we’re not going to change the mind of the screamers who think we’re going to pull the plug on grandma. That’s just the problem for the rest of the public though. All they’re hearing is the inanity and some shouting back from our side, or sound bites. Just like the Obama campaign did during the election, there should be more outreach so people know what the debate is, and why it’s so important for them and their families.
Something like this video where Christopher Hayes from The Nation explains the public option at the Netroots Nation, a gathering of liberal bloggers, but taking it to the general public, instead of just “preaching to the choir”: