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The Strange Death of the Public Option

By Matthew Yglesias on February 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm

"The Strange Death of the Public Option"

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(cc photo by aflcio)

(cc photo by aflcio)

I don’t agree with his take on the policy issue, but Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece on the strange death of the public option in which it’s clear that if we get a health care bill:

1. It won’t include a public option.
2. The public option won’t have been traded away for GOP cover.
3. The public option won’t have been traded away for some other identifiable concession to progressives.
4. The public option won’t have been officially abandoned by the White House.
5. The public option won’t have been dropped at the insistence of some identifiable bloc of anti-PO legislators.

Instead it’ll have just vanished in a cloud of smoke somewhere. My view is that this is an excellent health care proposal without a public option, and that including a public option would be only a minor improvement.* But this is an incredibly disrespectful way for a political movement to treat its supporters. This is particularly true because unlike his two main rivals for the Presidential nomination, Barack Obama ran explicitly as an opponent of the individual mandate. I’ve heard Obama talk about how for progressive policy to have a chance of getting support from the American people he needs to try to rebuild people’s faith in the ability of the government to do useful things and do them well. I agree with that. But he also needs to rebuild people’s faith that engagement with the political process can accomplish something. The unseemly wriggling away from campaign promises he’s engaged in is going to achieve the reverse.

I would also note that, among other things, had the White House more clearly and forcefully indicated to public option organizers that they didn’t really want to pursue this vigorously that would have pissed people off in the short-run but also would have given progressive organizers the opportunity to try to reorient their efforts around something different or broader. By giving the impression that it was really a question of “getting the votes,” by contrast, people were encouraged to just double-down on various whip-count projects, things like the Bennet letter, etc.

Throughout this process, in my view, public option supporters have been too willing to paper over the difference between the “robust” public option (with payment rates linked to Medicare) which would make a big difference but had very little support on the Hill and the “level playing field” public option (which no Medicare link) which had a lot more support on the Hill but isn’t a big deal in policy terms. The moment at which advocates for a large public sector role in providing health insurance to Americans between the ages of 18 and 65 gave away the store was when the robust public option was dropped in favor of the level playing field version.

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