Sunday, August 16, 2009

Counter-Strike: Hold Your Fire

I was trying to continue to keep my weekend peace, but The Big Picture wrote an apocalyptic entry that I think merits a response.

I don't think it's worth getting devastated based on what we saw in the news today. Yes, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that the public option was "not an essential part of reform." I think she's dead wrong. But she did NOT say that the White House is willing to give in on the public option. The point that she's trying to make is one that Ezra Klein has made several times. The Public Option is neither as good as its proponents say it is, nor as bad as its detractors say it is. What Sebelius was getting at, I think, was that the public option should not be the focal point of the debate on health reform. It is one of several options that would be available to about 20% of the population that doesn't get insurance from their employers. I think it's important, but I don't think it should define what this bill is about. There are several provisions that are arguably more important than the public option. For example, the size and scope of the national health insurance exchange, whether it includes a public option or not, is critically important. The size of subsidies to individuals so that they can afford insurance under an individual mandate is crucial.

The White House is clear that they want a plan that will increase competition with private insurers. I think the co-op will not do that effectively, and I think the public option will. But there is a long way to go in the legislative process, and the White House insisted later today that nothing in their view has changed. They still strongly support the public option.

What I'm more worried about, and I'll write about this more in the coming days, is the Democratic defeatism on this issue. I was more concerned to see Senator Conrad (D-ND) say that the public option doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate. He has repeated this mantra repeatedly over the past few months, and it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It would have enough votes if you went out and GOT the votes, not if you whined about it on Fox News. Meanwhile, centrist House Democrats, the ones I've seen interviewed on TV, seem intimidated by the outbursts at town hall meetings, and are backing off their previous support of health reform bills. Mike Ross of Arkansas, a Blue Dog Democrat who won a ton of concessions from leadership to make the bill more "moderate" won't even say if he'll support final passage of the House bill. I've heard this from several House Democrats, who seem to be forgetting that they don't represent the crazy old people who show up at their town meetings, they represent the best interests of their constituents. There just doesn't seem to be a desire by anyone in the Democratic party to fight for this.

Meanwhile, the Republican party is dancing in the streets celebrating the Democrats' failure to act. They're thrilled at the enthusiasm of the grassroots and the timidity of Democrats in Congress. I heard an interview with conservative blogger Erick Erickson today, who was talking as if it was obvious that the Republicans would take back the House next year. We simply can't let this happen. We have large majorities in both Houses of Congress, our President is still pretty popular, and the American people support the major tenets of the health care proposal. We haven't lost anything yet. We lose only by shooting ourselves in the foot and cowering in the face of a vocal, but small portion of the electorate.

The public option isn't dead. The White House hasn't conceded anything. They're just preparing themselves to accept a watered down version of the bill if the political will isn't there to pass something really ambitious. It's our job to make sure that will is there.

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