Thursday 10 September 2009

Obama’s path to the public option

The liberals have the bit between their teeth: they are demanding a meeting with Obama, and Weiner says the House won’t pass a bill without the public option. But the real action is in the Senate. Obama summoned the Senate Blue Dogs to the White House for a talking-to today. Carper says that in the meeting, they told Obama that they wouldn’t vote for a bill that wasn’t cost-effective and revenue-neutral. Mark Begich came out of the meeting at the White House and said Obama put a lot of effort into allaying concerns regarding costs, apparently with success. Begich, like Wyden, is concerned about issues other than the public option itself, and doesn’t want the bill to live or die on the public-option issue (Wyden, Mr. Coop, has concerns about Obama’s plan, but they don’t appear to relate to the public option itself). I’m thinking Begich will vote for the public option if need be, and he’s probably not the only one. But I have a feeling that the meeting also sounded a bit like what Obama’s buddy Dick Durbin said in July – there’s a price you pay for being a member in good standing in the Democratic caucus. In other words, cloture, reconciliation, and the public option. Obama should make the threats: every Democrat must stand up, at the very least, for the concept of majority rule, just as the Republicans did when they ran the store.

New HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said his Blue Dog colleagues don’t all like the public option but they won’t vote against it; he himself doesn’t insist on the option but he says we’ll get one. Reid likewise says he’s okay with coops – apparently Obama put out the word not to foreclose options yet, so as to avoid scaring off people like Snowe, but I don’t know how long they can do that. Other public-option proponents pushed their case today – coops are impractical because private insurers have sweetheart deals with local providers which would have to be broken up by statute, and that it is impractical also to have individual mandates without the public option, because then the insurers will own us all lock, stock and barrel; unless a coop is national or regional, with health coverage guaranteed permanently – a half-step away from the public option -- there will be resistance from the House.

Speaking of Blue Dogs: the AFL-CIO, which helped Lieberman win a historic victory as an independent, is now publicly pressuring him to pull his head out of his ass and help Obama on the public option.

A key word to watch for: McCaskill suggested that the public option be “handcuffed” so that it can’t expand and swallow up all the private insurers – something that was never going to happen anyway, but give them the language if it will nail down more Blue Dogs.

And let’s all remember how much Obama has compromised already: the infamous “death panel” provisions that had nothing to do with death panels, the tort reform, the four-year timeline Obama announced, and another fact that Obama reminded us of: the public option IS the compromise, a huge retreat from the single-payer plan we really need.

The House may finish up a bill by the end of September. After the Finance Committee finally approves a bill (after more GOP footdragging), Reid will grab it, reconcile it with the HELP bill, and try to get it to the Senate floor by early October (cue more footdragging). Reid is okay with reconciliation, he thinks the Democrats will hang together on filibusters, and he expects a bill by Thanksgiving. “The Hill” thinks that Obama’s exhaustive effort to reach out to the GOP even now, is just a set-up for the reconciliation option later, on the grounds that Obama got as far as he could on the bipartisan track.

Obama has a clear political path here: stay in full campaign mode until the bill is passed, attack the insurers and increase the entirely justified public fear of them, and bash the liars and ruin their credibility so no one listens to them in November. Then plow them into the ground with the reconciliation option, just as they did to us with Bush’s asinine tax cuts for the rich.

Because, taking that path, Obama has 100 percent chance of passing the public option.

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