Blanche Lincoln's Backward Thinking
Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln didn't even have the courtesy to show up to vote down the public option today, instead voting no by proxy in the Senate Finance Committee. She released this statement about her no vote.
Arkansans have told me they support health care reform that forces insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and prevents them from dropping coverage when you become seriously ill. We can achieve these goals, stabilize the cost of coverage for Arkansans who have health insurance, and expand coverage to the uninsured and underinsured without creating a purely public, new government program, which most Arkansans do not support. I have promised my constituents that I will fight for health insurance reform that is deficit neutral, now and in the future, and that creates more choices for small businesses and their workers and the self-employed. These are important priorities that I believe we can achieve.
In addition, I am working to ensure that requiring Americans to purchase health insurance does not result in a personal windfall for health insurance company executives. My amendment would cut the tax shelter, from $1 million to $500,000, of what businesses are able to deduct for executive compensation. This is a fair policy change aimed at lowering insurance costs to consumers and reassuring them that insurance companies are not receiving excessive tax breaks while at the same time profiting from a government mandate.
First of all, the part I boldfaced is not true. In fact, Daily Kos did a Research 2000 poll just two weeks ago showing that Arkansans favored a public option by 55-38, with independents supporting it by roughly the same number (56-34) and Democrats overwhelmingly in favor, 81-14.
Second, Lincoln is in trouble for re-election. The Rasmussen numbers out today show her losing to all challengers, topping out at around 41% of the vote. While the Kos/R2K poll was more favorable, she still never beat 47% in any of those polls, and her fav-unfav numbers were 43/49. She's going to need some help from Democrats to win re-election.
I know that national Democrats would probably actively work for her defeat given today's votes. The Senate campaign committee is pretty much an incumbency protection racket, but they may be stretched fairly thin in 2010. Most important, Blanche Lincoln needs to win over her fellow Democrats in Arkansas. This will anger them, and the attempt at faux-populism by including an amendment to cut the tax shelter for health insurance company executives cuts pretty hard against her vote to roll back the estate tax for the richest families in America. There will probably be competition to Lincoln's left, and because it is likely to come from the fairly robust Arkansas Green Party, it will show up in the general election, not just a primary. Therefore, it is deeply in the interests of Lincoln to keep the Democratic base in Arkansas satisfied with her performance, and given the poll numbers, that points to supporting a public option. But she did not do that today.
The real test here is whether Lincoln would vote to filibuster the health care bill if a public option is included on the floor via amendments. If she does, it is more likely to hurt her in 2010 than help her, which I don't think she fully understands.