Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stop Whining

I've had it with my liberal or progressive or whatever we call ourselves whiners who feel double-crossed that President Obama reneged on a campaign promise they insist included a public option in the health reform legislation.

My recollection is exactly the same as reported in today's "First Read" posting by reporters for MSNBC which I will reprint in total after I offer my own take.

What I do recall is that during the campaign and as president Obama had said he preferred a public option. It was never included on his campaign website nor has he insisted it be included in the legislation now pending before both houses of Congress.

This is typical Obama. Followers and detractors read into his words what they want to believe.

What I read from the beginning of what Obama meant by his "preference" for a public option was that if it was included in the legislation he would be more than pleased to sign it into law.

I also believed that Obama did not insist inclusion of the public option is because he doubted it would pass the Senate and certainly a rallying cry for opposition from conservative and moderate voters. Say what you want about Obama, as president he is a pragmatist.

The polls are all over the place on the public option. In generic terms, the public supports it. In specific forms crafted by the House and the Senate, the proposed legislation falls as low as 35% approval.

The White House strategy in pushing for health reform has been highly suspect in my mind. From the beginning, Obama did not want to make the same mistake as the Clinton administration which crafted the legislation in secret and tried to ram it down the throats of Congress.

As time dragged on, it became clear that Obama would sign anything emerging from Congress and call it a landmark victory. You know, anything is better than nothing.

It came as no surprise to me that when the Democratic senators met privately with the president last Friday, Joe Lieberman emerged to say the public option did not come up in the conversation. Why? It's not Obama's style.

Obama, no matter how much his fate depends on a workable health reform package, is not a Lyndon Johnson. No one could twist arms and bang heads as crudely and effectively as LBJ. We really don't know how politically astute Obama as a practicioner really is behind closed doors. Time will tell.

I'm not drinking the cool aide that maintains the public option is the only key to success. There are many routes taken on the path to a universal coverage goal and the current Senate version is one of them. Is it the best route? No way. If the two bills are reconciled and passed by both houses, it is the only way.

Liberals/progressives are losing the public option battle at this moment but they are on the cusp of winning the war. Take what you can get now and fine tune it in future years. That came about for Social Security and to a lesser degree Medicare.

Despite all the projections, we do not know whether this bill or one with a public option would not in time bankrupt our nation. The doomsayers make a salient point by claiming the government cannot run a program and wave Amtrak and the U.S, Postal Service as examples.

I have stated repeatedly I prefer Medicare for all or at least a robust public option. Just because I don't get my way doesn't mean I throw a tantrum and use the president as a straw man accused of idealogical treason.

As promised, the First Read item:

Some liberals are upset with this statement President Obama made to the Washington Post: "I didn't campaign on the public option."

The liberal group Progressive Change Campaign Committee is up a with new TV ad in response, which will run in D.C. and Wisconsin (to influence Sen. Russ Feingold). "President Obama should frankly feel ashamed that he promised Americans a public option, got people to believe real change was possible, and then never truly fought for it -- instead, pushing an insurance mandate that he specifically campaigned against," said the PCCC's Adam Green. "Hopefully, our ad inspires one brave senator to represent the will of the people and insist that a public option be in any final bill."

As we've written before, the words "public option" didn't appear in any Obama campaign speech we can remember; they didn't come up during the debates; and they didn't surface in TV ads. Remember when Obama and Hillary Clinton dominated the MSNBC debate with Brian Williams and Tim Russert with 16 minutes of health-care discussion, the words "public option" were never uttered.

It is true that a public plan was part of Obama's health-care plan, and it's also true that the public option was an idea being debated in policy-wonk circles during the campaign. 

But, from our vantage point as reporters who covered the presidential campaign, Obama's quote to the Washington Post appears to be correct.

And here's Huffington Post's Sam Stein's take: "An examination of approximately 200 newspaper articles from the campaign, as well as debate transcripts and public speeches shows that Obama spoke remarkably infrequently about creating a government-run insurance program. Indeed, when he initially outlined his health care proposals during a speech before the University of Iowa on March 29, 2007, he described setting up a system that resembles the current Senate compromise - in which private insurers would operate in a non-profit entity that was regulated heavily by a government entity." 

Now, there’s no doubt that Obama broke a promise on mandates. And he’s had to answer for that in interviews with reporters. It’s certainly accurate to say that he campaigned against a mandate. Remember, Clinton was in favor a mandate and much of the debate on health care centered around THAT word. And because of the mandate, the irony for the left -- now up in arms about mandates -- is that her plan was the one that was seen as the more liberal.

When asked over e-mail about the above points, Green wrote, in part, “Those two arguments above -- that he actively campaigned against the mandates, and that his health care plan actively called for a ‘new public insurance plan’ seals the deal beyond the need for anything more.” 

He added, “[C]ampaigns are mostly about themes, you know that. Obama promised he would take on special interests and fight for regular people. He promised change you can believe in. Instead he cut a deal with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, is embracing a bill that they love which is wildly unpopular with the public, and never fought for a public option which Americans overwhelmingly want. As the petition that accompanies our ad says (which his own staffers, volunteers, and donors signed), that's not change we can believe in.”

Yet, Jacob Hacker, the Yale professor who is credited with being the father of the public option endorsed the Senate bill -- even without the public option. 

To that, Green responded, “When Hacker was being honest with himself, he wrote a piece about the Medicare buy-in called, ‘You Call This A Compromise?’ When later accepting this even-worse bill, he said that if we don't pass it, ‘The most progressive president of my generation...will be handed a crippling loss. The party he leads will be branded as unable to govern.’ This was before it came out that Obama never even pressed Lieberman to support the public option. He didn't fight. So this isn't a real's an insurance industry bill.”

Here’s an excerpt from his May 29, 2007 speech laying out his health care plan. Again, there’s nothing about a public option. 

“It’s a goal I believe we can achieve on a national level with the health care plan I’m outlining today,” Obama said, according to his prepared remarks from that day. “The very first promise I made on this campaign was that as president, I will sign a universal health care plan into law by the end of my first term in office.  Today I want to lay out the details of that plan -- a plan that not only guarantees coverage for every American, but also brings down the cost of health care and reduces every family’s premiums by as much as $2,500. This second part is important because, in the end, coverage without cost containment will only shift our burdens, not relieve them. So we will take steps to remove the waste and inefficiency from the system so we can bring down costs and improve the quality of our care while we’re at it.”

This all really speaks to what a blank slate Barack Obama was for so many people -- liberals, centrists and conservatives alike. Anyone could find something they liked about him and adapt the idea of Obama to what they wanted.

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