Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Obama and the public option

Tom Daschle's new book includes another reminder that the key reason that health care reform doesn't have a public option is because the Obama White House bargained it away early on in the process in secret meetings with "the hospital association, with the insurance (AHIP), and others," as Daschle put it in an interview with Think Progress. This is a major problem, a weakness that is likely to deprive the health care reform of much of its effectiveness, undermine public support for it, and give the Republicans and opportunity to reverse the parts of the reform beneficial to consumers.

Glenn Greenwald has a good report on the Daschle item, Truth about the public option momentarily emerges, quickly scampers back into hiding Salon 10/05/2010. See also Igor Volsky, Daschle: Public Option 'Taken Off The Table' In July [2009] Due To 'Understanding People Had With Hospitals' Think Progress 10/05/2010; David Dayen, The Deal with the Hospital Industry to Kill the Public Option 10/05/2010.

As Greenwald puts it:

What Daschle said here -- in his interview with Volsky and, apparently, in his new book -- is crystal clear, and is consistent with what has long been clear: despite its stream of public statements to the contrary, the Obama White House made no efforts to have a public option in the bill because their secret, early agreement with "stakeholders" was that no public option (and thus no real mechanism of competition with private industry) would be created.
And he's correct in saying, "one cannot argue that the White House did push for it, or even that they wanted it, since it was part of their deal with industry and its lobbyists from the start that it would not be in the final bill."

I would note that one very public indication of such a deal with the stunning admission by White House advisor Valerie Jarrett at her appearance at Netroots Nation in August 2009 that the White House had no intention of bringing any kind of pressure on the Blue Dog Democrats to get them to support the health care plan, which at that time still included the public option, which the administration was still claiming to back.

Her response was stunning. The question was posed to her by comedian Baratunde Thurston, who generally did a poor job of conducting the interview with her, which was the format of her appearance. He asked a reasonable question that was put in a melodramatic form, which gave Jarrett the chance to duck the actual question. Although she actually answered the real question about whether the President was going to pressure the Blue Dogs to get in line. This is from the transcript, though I've done some clean-up on capitalization, spacing, punctuation and paragraph breaks:

[Baratunde:] This question is from Facebook from Martha Elizabeth. Is the President going to call all the Blue Dogs in his office and give each a piece of paper with the amount of stimulus money and say, "I want your vote on healthcare? If you're a Democrat get in line. Otherwise any time you want money in juror [your?] district you can ask Jim De Mint for it?" Wow. Mary Elizabeth!

[Jarrett:] Mary Elizabeth. She has a fan club.

I was going to say. I'm jealous. I haven't got that kind of applause yet. my goodness. The fact of the matter is I know obviously that's hit a note here, and I know that there is a lot of frustration here and around the country, and I'm telling you, I am convinced this president has it right and he is going to continue to go along the way he's going.

He is not one to punish or do any of the kinds of things that perhaps you might want to do in a moment of span [?] the mayty [martyr] or anger but he'll count on the American people to put the pressure on their elected representatives because that's way the system works the best. it doesn't work for him to punish from the Oval [Office].
Since the most prominent target of criticism from Blue Dogs in the health care reform at this point and into 2010 was the public option, this was a very clear signal that the White House was not seriously committed to the public option. Baratunde had blundered his way into evoking a newsworthy answer from Jarrett. But he was apparently too clueless to realize it or follow up on it.

In fact, her response was so silly it was downright insulting. Even a high-school civics teacher wouldn't pretend that the President doesn't bring pressure on recalcitrant Members of Congress to get his bills passed. And we saw in 2010 when Obama started fighting against inclusion of the public option, he was certainly willing to bring pressure on House progressives to get them to support his position against the public option.

Jarrett followed up immediately with this, sounding like she was giving a pep talk to a group of Party functionaries:

When you guys get out there - and it's hard work but when you organize and when you, and not just form letters but when you call and - I met a person right as I came in going and having 60 meetings on the hill in the next few weeks with they're elected representatives. Meet them in the district. Go to the town hall meetings and make phone calls and organize your block and audiences and bloggers and put the pressure on them that way. That's how we'll get healthcare done this year. Not quite as much applause, but trust me. It will work. [my emphasis]
For the public option, it would have worked, if the White House hadn't already made a deal with the health insurance companies to oppose the public option.

Bill Clinton signaled the same thing in a less crass but more direct manner during his own keynote address at that event, making a point of telling the crowd that if the public option doesn't get into the final bill, don't do what "the left" supposedly did to him and criticize Obama for that result.

Recalling this is far more substantive than sour grapes from the Democratic base. It also means that it's unlikely in the extreme that the Obama administration has any intention at this point of pushing for a public option as an addition to the reform. And that's a substantive problem, both for the quality of health care reform and for the politics of preserving it from Republican attacks.

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