Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rockefeller Retreats on Support for Public Option

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been adamant in his support for the inclusion of a strong public option in the health care legislation. From October, 2009:

He's also a longtime advocate of health care for children and the poor – and, as Congress moves toward its moment of truth on health care, perhaps the most earnest, dogged Senate champion of a nationwide public health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies.

"I will not relent on that. That's the only way to go," Rockefeller told me in an interview. "There's got to be a safe harbor."

Now that the Public Option has made a comeback and actually has a chance to pass the Senate via reconciliation, Rockefeller has made a surprising reversal:

"I'm probably not going to vote for that," Rockefeller said. "I don't think the timing of it is very good."

Earlier in the evening, in a brief interview with TPMDC, Rockefeller expressed concern that playing hardball with the public option at this time could imperil reform, but he didn't say he'd oppose it.

"I don't know, I think the timing of the public option piece of legislation, which is not in what the President's going to suggest at the summit I think, doing that could create a lot of turbulence when we don't need it," Rockefeller told me.

To recap, when it looked like the Public Option was on life-support and had a slim chance of passage, Rockefeller supported it to the fullest. Now that the Public Option has a legitimate chance of passing, Rockefeller doesn't think he will vote for it and may even vote against it. Per usual, Glenn Greenwald sums it up nicely:

This is what the Democratic Party does; it's who they are. They're willing to feign support for anything their voters want just as long as there's no chance that they can pass it. They won control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections by pretending they wanted to compel an end to the Iraq War and Bush surveillance and interrogation abuses because they knew they would not actually do so; and indeed, once they were given the majority, the Democratic-controlled Congress continued to fund the war without conditions, to legalize Bush's eavesdropping program, and to do nothing to stop Bush's habeas and interrogation abuses ("Gosh, what can we do? We just don't have 60 votes).


Basically, this is how things have progressed:

Progressives: We want a public option!

Democrats/WH: We agree with you totally! Unfortunately, while we have 50 votes for it, we just don't have 60, so we can't have it. Gosh darn that filibuster rule.

Progressives: But you can use reconciliation like Bush did so often, and then you only need 50 votes.

Filbuster reform advocates/Obama loyalists: Hey progressives, don't be stupid! Be pragmatic. It's not realistic or Serious to use reconciliation to pass health care reform. None of this their fault. It's the fault of the filibuster. The White House wishes so badly that it could pass all these great progressive bills, but they're powerless, and they just can't get 60 votes to do it.

[Month later]

Progressives: Hey, great! Now that you're going to pass the bill through reconciliation after all, you can include the public option that both you and we love, because you only need 50 votes, and you've said all year you have that!

Democrats/WH: No. We don't have 50 votes for that (look at Jay Rockefeller). Besides, it's not the right time for the public option. The public option only polls at 65%, so it might make our health care bill -- which polls at 35% -- unpopular. Also, the public option and reconciliation are too partisan, so we're going to go ahead and pass our industry-approved bill instead . . . on a strict party line vote.

This absurd dance does little for the millions of people without affordable health care coverage and will end up doing very little to fundamentally reform the system. Partly to blame for this mess is the filibuster which has proved to not only be a shield for the Democrats to hide behind, but also as a weapon for the Republicans to enact "minority rule". The Democrats talk tough and adopt populist views when they know they can not pass legislation due to the Republican threat of a filibuster. Then, when it becomes clear that the legislation can be passed through other means, those same Democrats amend their populist positions to appeal to the corporatist interests and avoid backlash.

All of this leads to partisan bickering and nothing productive getting accomplished. The best part is that no one wants to be accountable for standing behind policies that may not mesh well with the status quo.

While the Democrats continue to decide that they really don't want the public option (now that it has a chance of passing), Republicans continue to show even more evidence that their vision for America is to oppose anything that comes out of the Obama Administration.

The most recent example of this strategy is displayed through more hypocrisy by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Let's flash back to October, 2009 when Boehner criticized the Health Care legislation for being too long:

Fast forward to yesterday when President Obama released his own legislation which was presented in this eleven-page format. Boehner's response through his spokesman:

"The White House's 'plan' consists of an 11-page outline, which has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office or posted online as legislative text. So they want to reorganize one-sixth of the United States' economy with a document shorter than a comic book, and they're complaining that they can't find our plan on their own website? C'mon."

First the bill is too long and now, too short. Seems like the Obama Administration just can't win doesn't it? Well, that is precisely the point. Remember back in September of 2008 when former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced his three-page TARP plan? Boehner didn't seem to have much to say about the length of that plan and even rejected items that Democrats wanted to include saying:

“We need to keep it clean, simple, move it through the House and Senate, get it on the president’s desk so [Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson] can in fact intervene as quickly as possible.”

With Democrats being disingenuous and Republicans determined to oppose everything, it does not look hopeful for robust health care reform to come out of such a troubled process.

This piece is also cross posted here.

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