or two ago, spurred by a correspondent, I said that the administration should drop the pretense and come out for what they really want—single-payer (i.e. government payer) health care, meaning socialized medicine. Since that’s what they really want, let them fight for that and argue for that, instead of the nightmarishly absurd, in-between health care plan they are pushing, which, among other things, would tyrannically require every self-employed person in America to buy health insurance.
According to Gary Bauer’s October 6 e-mail report, the White House has taken a significant step in the direction I proposed. Obama has reaffirmed his all-out support for the public option from which he had backed away during the summer following criticisms that the public option was designed to weaken private insurance and force people to get government-provided insurance, leading ultimately to a single-payer plan.
Unfortunately, Bauer neglected to provide a link, or even a title or searchable quotation, from the
article he is referencing. So I googled site:chicagotribune.com and “public option” and found
very informative article from October 4. The most remarkable development is that the White House thinks it can win over the moderate Democrats on the public option, the one thing they had said they couldn’t swallow.
Health care reform: Privately, Barack Obama strongly backs public option
White House discreetly labors to weave coalition on health care
By Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook
October 4, 2009
—Despite months of seeming ambivalence about creating a government health insurance plan, the Obama White House has launched an intensifying behind-the-scenes campaign to get divided Senate Democrats to take up some version of the idea in the weeks just ahead.
President Barack Obama has long advocated a so-called public option, while at the same time repeatedly expressing openness to other ways to offer consumers a potentially more affordable alternative to health plans sold by private insurers.
But now, senior administration officials are holding private meetings almost daily at the Capitol with senior Democratic staff to discuss ways to include a version of the public plan in the health care bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring to the Senate floor later this month, according to senior Democratic congressional aides.
Among those regularly in the meetings are Obama’s top health care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, aides to Reid, and Senate finance and health committee staff, both of which developed health care bills.
At the same time, Obama has been reaching out personally to rank-and-file Senate Democrats, telephoning more than a dozen lawmakers in the last week to press the case for action.
Administration officials are also distributing talking points and employing other campaign-style devices to rally support for passing a bill this fall.
The White House initiative, unfolding largely out of public view, follows months in which the president appeared to defer to senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they labored to put together gargantuan health care bills.
It also marks a critical test of Obama’s command of the inside game in Washington in which deals are struck behind closed doors and wavering lawmakers are cajoled and pressured into supporting major legislation.
“The challenge is to go to the (Senate) floor, hold the deal,” said Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. But “they are more involved than people think. They have a plan and a strategy, and they know what they want to get and they work with people to get it.”
With the Senate Finance Committee wrapping up work on its legislation and moving toward a formal committee vote this week, senior Democrats in the House and Senate are furiously working on detailed compromises to ensure enough Democratic votes to pass health care bills out of the two chambers later this month.
While Democrats hold majorities in both houses on paper, nailing down those majorities has not been easy—particularly in the Senate, where Democrats need a 60-vote supermajority to head off a Republican filibuster. The party commands a 60-40 majority, including two independents, but several centrist Democrats have expressed reservations about parts of Obama’s health care agenda.
No issue has proved more divisive than the proposal to create a new national insurance plan operated by the federal government and offered to some consumers as an alternative to private insurance.
Though favored by liberals as the best protection for consumers from high premiums charged by commercial insurers, a government plan is still viewed warily by many conservative Democrats and nearly all Republicans.
Just recently, two proposals to create a national government plan were defeated in the Finance Committee when Republicans and conservative Democrats voted against them.
While those votes were viewed by some as the death knell of the public option, the White House and its congressional allies are under heavy pressure from the Democratic Party’s liberal base to breathe life back into it.
That has Democratic leaders looking for ways to insert some form of the concept into a Senate bill without jeopardizing centrist support.
To that end, Obama is lavishing attention on moderate lawmakers while he continues to talk up the public option.
He has met repeatedly in private with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has floated a proposal to allow states to set up government plans as a fallback if commercial insurers do not control premiums.
The president has also discussed health care at least three times recently with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., one of the most outspoken Democratic critics of the public option.
When Obama spoke by phone recently with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., he made a point of the breadth of support for the public option, the senator said in an interview. Cantwell authored a proposal to let states set up public plans that Democrats added to the Senate Finance Committee bill on Wednesday.
And when Pennsylvania Democrats came to the White House recently to celebrate the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup win, Obama pulled some of them aside and reiterated his commitment to the public option even as Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was preparing a bill without one.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are also laboring to reverse the impression that the public option is a politically risky vote for conservative Democrats.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, has been canvassing centrist Democrats to explore ways they might support a new government plan. “I have talked to every one of our conservative members, and they are open to some kind of public option,” he told reporters recently.
And at a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats last Tuesday, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., marshaled polling data that in dozens of districts represented by conservative Democrats, a majority said they would back a requirement that Americans get health insurance as long as there was a public option.
“To argue that this is some fringe position is to ignore the obvious,” Durbin said.
The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation’s September health care survey showed 57 percent of Americans support the creation of a “public health insurance option similar to Medicare,” down just 2 percentage points from the August and July surveys.
Those polls have also been followed closely at the White House.
By including a plan in the bill that the full Senate will debate later this month, the White House and Democratic leaders could force Republicans to try to remove it.
But Obama and Reid are treading carefully, wary of including a provision that would scare off moderates such as Snowe, Nelson and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who have all indicated they would not support a national public plan.
Tribune Newspapers’ Peter Nicholas contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org