Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama Administration Hints That the Public Option is Not Essential

In my post last night I mentioned the comments that were made by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius stated that the public option was not "essential" to the passage of health care reform legislation which shows that the Obama Administration may be sending the signal that they would not be pushing for the presence of such an option in the final version of a bill.

While this morning's top story at The Huffington Post states that the White House is sending "mixed messages" on the issue of health care reform, I think that the indications are troubling. Sebelius has stated that the public plan is not "essential" to the passage of legislation, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continues to say that the White House supports the public option, and health care reform spokesperson Linda Douglass also indicated that the President is supportive of the public option.

In this instance it is important to remember that while President Obama may offer his support for the public option, it doesn't necessarily mean that he would veto legislation that did not contain such a provision. The Administration is looking for a win on this issue and I think it is pretty clear that if a political win can be obtained through passing a bill that doesn't have the public option attached, then Obama will probably sign such a bill. We have seen this type of behavior from Obama throughout his political career and it is what led many to emphasize (pre-2008 election) that Obama is a centrist Democrat who is more willing to adapt to existing institutions than fundamentally fight to change them.

This is the very reason why I found Rachel Maddow's comments so on point yesterday during her appearance on Meet the Press. If Obama chooses to spend his political capital by signing a bill that does not fundamentally change the health care system and is a watered-down version that contains mild reforms, then it is almost certainly going to be a failure. It will be a failure for the millions of Americans who are in need of health care, it will be a failure for progressives who voted for Obama last November, and it will be a failure for true reform. On the flip side of this equation it would certainly be considered a victory for the health care lobbyists (who have been pushing for meaningless "reforms" from the very beginning), it would be considered a victory for Republicans, and it would be considered a victory for the type of behavior that we have seen from the Republican's right-wing base who have been showing up at these town hall meetings. The only thing that would have been accomplished is that the Obama Administration got a lot of very angry Conservatives riled up over moderate to conservative reforms to a system that is in need of a radical overhaul.

Here are some other voices that are beginning to weigh in on the reports that the Administration is not married to the public option:

Matt Taibbi:

Now, obviously (and this is will be explored in more detail in the forthcoming piece, which will be out this week), the public option was not a cure-all. In fact, the Democrats had in reality already managed to kill the public option by watering it down to the point of near-meaninglessness. But the notion that our president not only does not have any use anymore for a public option, but in fact “will be satisfied” if there is merely “choice and competition” in the market is, well, disgusting.

Paul Krugman:

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.


What it all comes down to is yet one more politician that happens to be the President selling out the millions of people that fought so hard for him to get elected. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the only ones with workable plans for a public option for health care during the election and that is why it was basically a battle of the super stars of politics right down to the actual vote in the presidential primary. And a public health care option is why so many people worked to elect a Democratic party lead congress in both houses.

As a Democrat, and now somewhat progressive in thought person, I feel like I just got stabbed in the back. If President Obama wanted the full healthcare bill passed then he could have simply negotiated with his own political party to get the job done.

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