Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Obama Makes a Deal

Barack Obama has had a hands-off approach in supporting a public option in the health reform bill. After the Democrats lost Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, the public option seemed as dead as a door nail. But since a majority of the people want a public option, it is now being resurrected as a possibility through reconciliation.

So what is President Obama's position on the public option? Miles Mogulescu at The Huffington Post answers this question in his article, The Real Reason Obama'a Plan Doesn't Include a Public Option.
The reason Robert Gibbs gives for President Obama's health care plan not including a public option -- that despite majority voter support, it can't get 51 Democratic votes in the Senate -- doesn't hold up. The real reason is that Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital industry that there would be no meaningful public option.

But Obama's deal with the for-profit hospital lobby to insure there would be no public option has, as best I can tell, only been reported in two articles in The New York Times. On August 13, The Times reported that while President Obama had presented himself as "aloof from the legislative fray," particularly in connection with the public option, "Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Obama and advisors have been...negotiating deals with a degree of cold-eyed political realism potentially at odds with the president's rhetoric." One of the deals reported in The Times article was the Pharma deal. The other was a deal with the for-profit hospital lobby to limit its cost reductions to $155 billion over 10 years in exchange for a White House promise that there would be no meaningful public option.

Throughout the process, the White House has given vague statements supporting the public option -- enough to keep liberals and progressive on board -- while repeatedly undermining the public option in practice. Jane Hamsher has written a useful timeline of White House efforts to undermine the public option.

There is no evidence that President Obama has ever twisted the arm of a single Senator to support a public option and plenty of evidence that he has assiduously avoided doing so, sending a message to Senators that he doesn't want a public option. When the Senate passed its version of the health reform bill, the reason the White House gave for there being no public option was that it couldn't garner 60 votes. But Joe Lieberman, who could have been the 60th vote, insists that the Obama administration never pressured him to support either a public option or a Medicare buy-in. And Sen. Russ Feingold blamed the demise of the public option in the Senate on the White House's failure to push for it.

Now the White House is saying they're not including a public option in Obama's plan because they can't get even 51 Democratic votes in the Senate. Does anyone really believe that if President Obama really wanted a public option -- if he hadn't dealt the public option away in a backroom deal with the for-profit hospital industry -- he couldn't get 51 out of 59 members of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote for it?

If this is true, then the change that we were to believe in has become the status-quo that Obama ran against. Also, the public option is not the answer to solve the health care problem. But it is certainly a better place to start.

Progressives and Democrats should join together and push for real change with a single payer health care system. Now that would be change that can be believed.

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