There has been much discussion surrounding the "public option", or a government-run insurance program that would compete with the private insurance companies. While it appears that the House should be able to pass a health care bill with a strong public option, it is unclear whether the Senate will be able to muster 60 votes needed to pass a bill with a public option. Because of this, it now appears that Obama is going to express his support for a public option in his speech this evening, while not ruling out signing legislation that does not contain such a provision. From Politico:
In a speech meant to reset debate on the centerpiece of his first-term agenda, Obama can be expected to use language similar to his Labor Day remarks in Cincinnati, where he said: “I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices will help improve quality and bring down costs."
Anxious to navigate treacherous divides in the Senate, the president will stop short of drawing a line in the sand, as many liberal House Democrats want. He will not demand that a public option must be in any reform bill he signs, the sources said.
In other words, the President is leaving open the possibility that he will compromise on the compromise. As I have stated previously, the original compromise is the public option. Ever since a single-payer system was declared "off the table", there are some progressives who accepted discussing the public option as a workable compromise to the exclusion of the preferred system. These progressives, like Jane Hamsher, have been instrumental in their activism and getting members of the House to commit themselves to voting for a bill only if it contains a robust public option.
Now, after a month of wild town hall meetings that were ripe with misinformation, we are seeing continuing signs that the White House is not married to the idea of a public option and would be willing to pass legislation even if the final bill does not contain such a provision. Just listen to how careful White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is with his language this morning on NPR's Morning Edition:
Gibbs flat out states: "The public option is not the most essential part of health care reform...even though the public option, the President believes, is a valuable tool, as I said, to create choices and competition."
Look for this to be a microcosm of Obama's speech tonight. Obama will walk the fine line of expressing his personal preference of incorporating a public option, but will allow plenty of room for the health care legislation to continue to be weakened by members of Congress who wish to continue with the status quo. The President wants some kind of reform passed as it will be a big political win on which Democrats (and Obama himself) will be able to put on their resumes in the next elections. I just fear that we are seeing more evidence that Obama is more willing to adapt himself to existing institutions than to work to fundamentally change them. This is an area where we need fundamental change.