President Supports Public Option – White House Staff Tries to Kill Public Option

by Jane Hamsher

The President did a great job last night making the case to the nation of the need for health care reform.  He made the moral case, and every metric indicates that people were overwhelmingly moved to support his plan. That’s the good news for the White House.

The not so good news:  the White House has been trying to get out from under the burden of supporting the public option for weeks.  The trouble is, every time they try to do it, the President’s poll numbers take a huge hit.  And so last night he came out and indicated that a public plan would be a part of his reform package.

Today on the White House website, under “The Obama Plan,” it says:

If You Don’t Have Insurance

Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.   

The website is not so quick to commemorate the qualifiers regarding this public plan from last night’s speech:  

  • “The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” (expendable)
  • “For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies.” (triggers)
  • “Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring.”  (co-ops)

The administration’s inability to close the gap between expectations and reality is a boon for progressives members of Congress trying to maintain the 40 vote firewall necessary to keep any health care bill from passing that does not have a public public option. So far they are holding steady at 66 votes with no support from the party, the White House, Congressional leadership or the liberal “veal pen” institutions.

Earlier this week, the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus — Raul Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey — wrote a letter urging the President to mention the public option in his speech.  I spoke with Rep. Grijalva yesterday, and he reiterated how important it was to their efforts that the President do so. As long as the President keeps expressing his support for a public option, they — and we — can quite rightly say that we’re only insisting on something Obama himself endorses, something he campaigned on.

Of course, the actions of the White House betray quite a different intent.  The deals they have negotiated with health care industry stakeholders do not include a public plan, and they don’t believe they can back out of them without triggering a rush of lobbyist money to GOP coffers.

At some point there will be a day of reckoning when the public understands that the public option is gone.  But getting there will be tricky, and in the mean time White House wants to stop their opponents — and let’s face it, progressives who are insisting on the inclusion of a public plan are at this point their opponents — from being able to exploit that gap.  Because with every day that goes by, the base gets more and more wedded to the promise of a public plan, encouraged by the positive rhetoric of the President himself.  It becomes that much harder for the White House to extract itself from the enthusiasm they assist in fostering without paying a huge political price.

One day the 11 dimensional chess set is going to have to come to terms with the fact that Rahm Emanuel worked with Max Baucus to cut deals that they force into the House through the Blue Dogs, and that the goals of the White House are not at odds with those of the Blue Dogs.  Which is why Emanuel protects them so fiercely.  And why we keep hearing things like this:

Remember back on Friday, President Obama discussed the public option on a conference call with House liberals?… Well that meeting never happened.  [I]t doesn’t seem to suggest that House liberals are being roped in to the health care negotiations between the House and the Senate.

Meanwhile, the President meets with the Blue Dogs this morning

NBC’s First Read indicates that the President’s speech “will be a failure if progressives…are still obsessing over the public option a week from now.” But recent Rasmussen polling found that 44% of Democrats “strongly support” health care reform if it includes a public option. “Without the public option, just 12% of Democrats Strongly support it,” they note.

It’s going to take more than just one speech to move those numbers significantly.

It’s hard to believe the administration thought they could ditch the public plan without completely demoralizing the base and potentially suppressing 2010 turnout to 1994 levels, just as the passage of NAFTA did in 1993. Let’s not forget, that was also Rahm Emanuel’s handiwork and it resulted in a 54 seat swing that gave the GOP control of the House. Those Democrats who feel the need to “pass anything” and sacrifice the heart of health care reform just to build Republican support should also consider the potential nationwide downticket disaster that dropping a public plan could portend.

In the mean time, as long as the White House is consumed with the task of gaming out how they’re going to break the bad news to the public and hoping they can somehow pass off the blame to the GOP, House progressives will exploit the double the administration has created to consolidate their block.

Jane Hamsher blogs at firedoglake

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