Saturday, March 20, 2010

As Options Diminish

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), a favorite of the left blogosphere, has introduced an amendment for a quasi-public option, one which would extend Medicare, though require individuals to pay in at cost. It would be a significant improvement to the current health care system and a helpful addition to the Senate health care bill, which may be voted on by the House as early as tomorrow.

Still, no vote has been scheduled on this proposal. And over in the Senate, supporters of the public option are busy caving, as would appear from a March 19 item in The Burlington Free Press about the approach of two U.S. Senators, one from Vermont:

The National Journal reported on its Web site Thursday that Sanders and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would shelve an amendment to the bill during the reconciliation process in exchange for assurances the proposal would be resurrected later.
A statement by Will Wiquist, a Sanders spokesman, confirmed the report. “Bernie is a strong supporter of a public option and will continue to work to create a system that provides competition for private insurance companies as a way to hold down skyrocketing premiums,” Wiquist said by e-mail. “He thinks majorities in the House and Senate would support a public option.”

These would not be "moderate" Democrats, but the very progressive Jeff Merkley and the even more progressive/populist Bernie Sanders, an avowed Socialist and Independent who caucuses with the Democrats as the less conservative major party.

Clearly, this is more of a failure of nerve or strategy than of philosophy on the part of these Senators. And perhaps it is understandable, as the report goes on to explain that Vermont's other (Democratic) Senator, Pat Leahy, stated

the final health reform package headed for House and Senate votes will recognize the early investment Vermont has made in its Medicaid program, meaning more than $100 million in added funding for Vermont’s Medicaid programs over the next 10 years.

The Medicaid solution for states such as Vermont was one of the last issues to be resolved in final work on the plan. Leahy, with support from Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pushed for the remedy, which fixes underfunding for Vermont as an “early leader” state that offers more generous Medicaid programs than much of the country.

A renewed push for a public option would be a little more credible if the White House were to encourage it, an unlikely eventuality. Eli at Firedoglake yesterday recalled

the progressive community got 60+ representatives to pledge to oppose any health care reform bill that did not contain a public option; a bloc that would make such a bill impossible to pass. That sounds pretty “make me do it,” right? (Sure, now the progressives are folding like they always do, but Obama could have easily pretended to take them seriously.)

And what happened? First Obama made no attempt to pressure Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman to vote for cloture – and only cloture – on the public option, nor did he ever press Harry Reid to try to pass it through reconciliation.

Then, when Scott Brown took Teddy Kennedy’s seat and forced reconciliation back onto the table, Obama still made no effort to push for the once-again-attainable public option, and even excluded it from his own sidecar proposal, despite the high probability that it would pass, the progressive PO-Or-Bust pledge, and the new “Public Option Please” letter.

Only when the public option was safely removed from the conversation did Obama and all his supporting organizations unleash all the personal arm-twisting and full-court press that we crazy hippies were supposedly so unrealistic to expect from them last year.

The sarcasm inherent in reference to the "Public Option Please" letter, authored by U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), may have been prompted by this excerpt:

As Democrats forge “the path forward” on health care, we believe that passing the public option through reconciliation should be part of that path. We urge you to favorably consider our request to include a public option in the reconciliation process.

Translation: If a public option is promptly added after passage, we'll be grateful, but meanwhile we'll vote for anything characterized as a "path forward."

In November, Representative Diana DeGette (D-DO) had penned a letter with 61 signatories (the names of whom DeGette has all along refused to reveal) to Speaker Pelosi vowing

We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women's right to choose any further than current law.

Now, as Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher describes, an effort is underway to accomodate Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) on extending anti-abortion rights language beyond the Hyde amendment. One member of DeGette's group- which has met with the Speaker- reportedly said yesterday

It is outrageous that a Democratic Speaker, a Democratic Majority Leader and a Democratic President should support rolling back women’s reproductive rights.

And what will they do about it? Probably about the same as supporters of a public option. They will huff and puff and be content with some reassuring words from Congressional leadership, taking its cue from the White House. And the vast majority of them will usher the bill toward what, most pundits predict, will be passage.

So perhaps Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who recently announced this week that he wil change his vote on "reform" from "no" to "aye," gave the best rationale to approve the legislation when he on Wednesday he reasoned

One of the things that has bothered me is the attempt to try to de-legitimize his presidency. That hurts the nation when that happens... We have to be very careful that President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate. . .Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there’s something much bigger at stake here for America.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint understood this well when he boasted last July (video below)

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will break him. It will be his Waterloo and we will show that we can, along with the American people, begin to push those freedom solutions that work in eevery area of society. It will break him.

In the end, in some sort of irony, we may have an extremely conservative South Carolina senator to thank for (double cliche ahead) pushing reform (such as it is) past the finish line. DeMint threw down the gauntlet, and Democrats since then have had to consider the possibility that defeat of "Obamacare" would set the stage for the destruction of the presidency of America's first black President. And they would find that a heavy responsibility, and burden, to bear.

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