Sunday, August 16, 2009


It's clear right now that the leading Democrats have given up on the public option -- and my question is: So how are the fat cats going to try to kill what's left? Because I simply don't believe the conventional wisdom, which is that that they and their GOP and Blue Dog lackeys will (or may) back down if certain objectionable provisions are pulled from the bill. I think they're going for the kill. I think the rhetoric is going to get wilder, not less heated, as Democrats compromise.

If you doubt that the public option is dead, examine the evidence. Here's a Politico story:

...With August dominated by angry faces and raised voices at town hall meetings, influential Democrats began laying the groundwork for the fall, particularly with the party's liberal base, saying they may need to accept a less-than-perfect bill to achieve health reform this year.

"Trying to hold the president's feet to the fire is fine, but first we have to win the big argument," former President Bill Clinton said Thursday at the Netroots Nation convention...

"I want us to be mindful we may need to take less than a full loaf," he said....

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said twice this week that he was open to dropping the public plan to pass a bill....

White House health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle said recently the president was willing to study replacing the government-run plan with non-profit insurance cooperatives....

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is close to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, warned progressives against turning their backs on reform if it doesn't include everything they want....

Add that to this:

A key Senate negotiator said Sunday that President Barack Obama should drop his push for a government-funded public health insurance option because the Senate will never pass it.

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said it was futile to continue to "chase that rabbit" due to the lack of 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," Conrad said on "FOX News Sunday."

And this:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ... told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that "what's important is choice and competition." A public option "is not an essential element," the Cabinet secretary said Sunday.

And this:

"The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it," Obama said. "And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else."

But, see, I don't buy this from the Politico story:

On Capitol Hill, the public plan is a huge legislative chess piece that, used strategically, could checkmate opponents. An in-play public option allows Democrats to keep a gun to the head of insurance companies as they work to reform the private insurance market.

If Democrats deal the public plan away too early, it allows industry lobbyists to turn their attention to shaping insurance market reforms, which, next to defeating the public plan, is its most important priority. In fact, health industry insiders acknowledge that they could win the battle but lose the war if they defeat the public plan, but fail to influence the market reforms.

Dropping a public plan means reform is likely to pick up some bipartisan support, particularly from Senate Republicans who staunchly oppose the public option, but have been actively working with Democrats to craft a compromise.

That last sentence is why I don't believe it. Democrats are never going to pick up "bipartisan support." The whole point of the crazy talk up to now has been to make voting against this bill seem sensible to swing voters (plus, obviously, right-wingers) no matter what's left in it -- all of which makes it easier for moderates (and phony moderates) to vote no.

I don't believe lobbyists are twiddling their thumbs, just waiting patiently to learn the fate of the public option before saying, "Gee, do you think we should turn our attention now to shaping insurance market reforms?" I think they're working all fronts, all the time, because they're not sure they can achieve a clean kill.

But I think a kill is the #1 goal. And the way that's being done is not by focusing on what is or isn't in the actual bill. The way that's done is creating a series of myths about the actual bill.

If the public option is dropped, the talk of "socialized medicine" isn't going to go away -- not one iota. But just in case a few moderates actually do start wavering, the crazy recitation of real and alleged provision is just going to get crazier.

I could be wrong. Selling out on one provision after another might get this thing through Congress. Everybody but me seems to think so.

But we'll see, won't we?

(Some links via Steve Benen.)

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