As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Requiem For A Public Option

The traditional media is certainly trying its best to bury the public option today, whether motivated by their corporate colleagues, the usual bipartisan fetishists or key figures inside the White House itself. Both major newspapers write essentially the same article about it today. The New York Times writes an elegy for the public option beginning with the line "It was just one line in a campaign manifesto, and it hardly seemed the most significant or contentious." The story goes on to claim that the public option's death is basically attributable to its probable success.

Champions of the public plan said it could save money by using Medicare rates and fee schedules to pay hospitals and doctors. In a book last year, one of Mr. Obama’s top advisers, former Senator Tom Daschle, said consumers should have the option of enrolling in “a government-run insurance program modeled after Medicare, a proven and popular program.”

That is exactly what worries health care providers, who say Medicare pays them less than market rates paid by private insurers. And they have pressed their concerns on Capitol Hill with a small army of lobbyists.

Conservatives have another concern. They see the public option as a step toward a single-payer system in which the government would pay most of the nation’s health care bill and could supplant private insurers.

Essentially, health care providers want to maximize their profits, and so they prefer an inefficient, profit-taking private insurance system. They are symbiotic to protect one another's profits.

The Washington Post's article gives yet another voice to White House officials' feigned surprise that the public option has become so outsized in the debate.

White House officials are somewhat baffled by House Democrats continuing to push for legislation that includes a robust public insurance option when it's clear the Senate will not embrace such a provision. In their view, the public option was never debated in the campaign, was never the center of a national debate and appears to lack the votes regardless of what public opinion polls show about its popularity.

In the opposite view, the public option may have not been debated in the campaign, but it's the center of a national debate right now, polls show it popular, and if it's such a minor part of the overall bill, why are Democratic moderates holding the legislation hostage to it? But for some reason, the dynamic never flows that way in Washington.

If there was ever a moment to get through to the White House, it happened yesterday. The President, at a rally in Minnesota, stated his support for a public option, and the crowd went wild. Absolutely nuts. So much so, the President seemed unnerved by it. He kept on with the same rhetoric from his Wendesday speech about how it's not a big deal and it wouldn't cover everybody. But efforts to rein that in just elicited confusion.

Like it or not, the public option has major grassroots support, and it's driving whatever energy exists around the bill. Kill it and you kill any attempt at leveraging that energy. And the prospects for a bill become remote. Maybe Obama figured this out yesterday in Minnesota.

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