Friday, February 26, 2010

Timidity On The Public Option

Yesterday on Democracy Now! Glenn Greenwald weighed in on the health care debate

Well, to me, the way in which the Democrats have conducted themselves concerning the public option is really quite amazing, not because of what they’ve done, but because of how blatant they’re being about it.

The public option, of course, all along was already a compromise from what most progressives wanted, who wanted single payer and were told by most Democratic politicians for a long time that single payer was the optimal course. The public option was already a means of doing nothing other than at least providing some competition to the private health insurance industry. And all year long, Democratic senators and the White House pretended that they were in favor of the public option. They kept insisting, “We’re behind the public option. We want the public option,” even though there was all sorts of evidence that the White House was secretly negotiating with the health insurance industry to make sure that it would be excluded from the final bill.

Amy Goodman then asked Greenwald "what kind of evidence?" to which he responded

Well, they’re the fact that senators ended up saying that in private meetings with the White House, it was made clear to them that the public option was not something that was a priority for the White House and that they would end up happy to see it gone. Health insurance lobbyists were coming in and out of the White House. And the reason they didn’t end up vigorously opposing healthcare reform was because there would be no competition for the private health insurance industry in the form of the public option. And, of course, the final bill didn’t have a public option, and the White House did nothing to support it.

But what’s most incredible was that the excuse that they gave to progressives was that the reason that we couldn’t have a public option was because there were fifty Democratic senators, or fifty-one Democratic senators, who supported it, but there weren’t sixty, and because of the filibuster rule, sadly, the public option just couldn’t get into the bill, and there was just nothing the White House could do, as much as the President wanted that to happen.

Well, now you have a situation where everybody is talking about doing healthcare reform through reconciliation, where only fifty votes, not sixty votes, are required. And what does the President do? He immediately, when he finally unveils his first bill, excludes the public option from the bill, even as he says we’re going to use a process that will only require fifty votes. And you even saw Senator Jay Rockefeller, who spent the year pretending to be so devoted to the public option that he said he will not relent in ensuring that it gets passed, that there is no healthcare reform without a public option, now that it can actually pass and become a reality, he turns around and says, “I’m not inclined to vote for it in reconciliation.”

This is what Democrats do. They use the filibuster rule as an excuse to their supporters to justify their inaction. They’ve been doing this for years. And now that the sham is exposed, because they’re really going to pass healthcare reform with fifty votes, they just turn around and so blatantly say, “Well, actually, we’ve been telling you all year we have fifty votes for a public option. Even now that we only need fifty votes, we’re still not going to do it.” It’s really quite extraordinary.

As Greenwald understands, the idea of a public option initially was a concession to liberals/progressives, who actually preferred the fairness and simplicity of a single payer system. The details of the public option were framed so as not to offend Republicans, given that it was to have covered a grand total of roughly 10 million Americans. Nevertheless, it was used as a whipping boy by the GOP (something would have to be), which figured out that the best strategy was opposition to anything and everything proposed by the President. On top of that, Senate Democrats, encouraged by Chief of Staff Emanuel, fashioned a bill of extraordinary complexity, which left it vulnerable to Republicans and tea party supporters who complained about its length and derisively charged that Democrats had not read their own bill.

Now that, as Greenwald explains, the public option is a real possibility (through reconciliation), there is no enthusiasm for it. Obviously, primary responsibility for this sleight-of-hand must be laid at the feet of the White House. Senate Democrats, perhaps still enamored of their historic president and clearly convinced they must hitch themselves to his wagon (and loathe to offend their benefactors in the insurance industry), have fallen right in line.

But Greenwald is unfair when he argues "this is what Democrats do." Notwithstanding that his reference to filibusters applies only to the Senate, he might have given a shout out to one Democrat who does not always roll over and play dead. (Two cliches are my limit for one sentence.) The Speaker of the House, from her closing remarks (video below) at the health care summit yesterday:

Mr. President, I harken back to that meeting a year ago. At that
time, Senator Grassley said -- questioned you about the public option. And you said, "The public option is one way to keep the insurance companies honest and to increase competition. If you have a better way, put it on the table."

Well, I bring that up because we come such a long way. We're
talking about how close we are on this, how far apart we are here.
But as a representative of the House of Representatives, I want you to know that we were there that day in support of a public option, which would save $120 billion, keep the insurance companies honest, and increase competition.


Mrs. Pelosi went on to call out GOP Representatives Boehner and Camp. Drawing a distinction between the Democratic approach and the Repub approach and reminding President Obama of when he was in favor of a public option may not be a "profile in courage," but comes closer than we've become accustomed to seeing.


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