Obama's Failure of Leadership
by Charles Lemos, Tue Feb 23, 2010 at 05:04:36 PM EST
The White House healthcare proposals, the attempt to bridge the gap between the House and Senate versions, did not include a public option. On this omission, Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post that this demonstrates "a complete and utter failure of White House leadership."
They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can't simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.
If the White House decides that reviving the public option is a good idea, there's reason to believe the Senate would follow them on that. It would make some sense, after all: The public option is popular, its death was partly the product of industry pressure, and the sudden spate of high-profile rate increases offers a nice rhetorical pivot for anyone who wants to argue that individuals should be able to choose an insurer who's not a profit-hungry beast. Plus, Democrats need an excited base going into the 2010 election, and this may be the only way to get it.
While the death of the public option may have partly been a result of industry pressure, the onus lies squarely with the White House. After all, where does the buck stop? Who is willing or unwilling to fight the powers that be? Some fights are worth having but we have a President and a Chief of Staff who would rather cut a deal than fight the good (and hard) fight. It has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership.
To be sure the White House has paid lip service to the idea of a public option now and again most recently earlier this week when they trotted out HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suggest that if the Senate wanted to push for a public option via the reconciliation process then Majority Leader Harry Reid was free to do so. Such a suggestion is a passing of the buck. Corralling 51 votes on this was always going to be arduous task but nonetheless 23 Senators had stepped forward until Senator Jay Rockefeller rained on the parade.
The answer has always been Medicare for All, it is a proven single payer system that works but it's clear that the White House was opposed to this idea from the start. Earlier this month on his Journal program on PBS, Bill Moyers interviewed Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Congressional Fellow with Physicians for National Health Program.
BILL MOYERS: Last May, before the Senate hearings at Max Baucus-- Senator Max Baucus were conducted, it seemed like there might be a momentum behind this single payer Medicare for all movement. What happened?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: They actually did start inviting us in to have a seat at the table. Senator Kennedy's committee contacted us. And I was the first person to testify in the Health Education and Labor and Pension Committee hearing. I sat next to the CEO of Aetna, which was a very interesting experience. And then when we went over to the House and spoke to the leadership there, they said, "We want your voice to be heard here." And we testified there. And so we actually thought we were starting to get our foot in the door. And then we had some amendments that were introduced that were good amendments. They would have substituted a national single payer system for the legislation that was going through, so we were really pushing on that. And then we saw that all of that fell apart.
BILL MOYERS: And then?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Well, what we learned through this process is there was a lot of control coming from the White House. And they did not- they wanted to pass something. They were putting everything off on passing something in health care reform. And they were concerned that if we let the single payer voice in, or if it was associated in any way with a legislation, that it would hurt their ability to pass that legislation. So they kind of put the kibosh on it.
BILL MOYERS: The White House.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Yes, it really came down from the top. We tried to bring our viewpoint in this summer. We actually brought doctors and nurses in. That was a lot of what I was doing, to meet with staffers and meet with legislators and educate them about health policy, what makes good sense from a health standpoint, not an, you know, special interest standpoint. But when we tried to reach the White House and ask to be included there, we requested meetings with the president on numerous occasions. And they just said no.
Juxtaposed against this Obama obstructionism are the efforts and the real leadership of Senator Kristen Gillibrand who was one of the four prime movers of this most recent effort to resuscitate the public option. In fact, Senator Gillibrand hit the nail of head recently in a meeting with the Young Manhattan Democrats:
After an impassioned speech and a few questions, it was my turn to stick myself in there and see if she could speak to the issue that I cared most about: fixing our wasteful, inefficient and immoral health care system. The question I asked, though not verbatim, went something like this:
Senator Gillibrand, I’d first like to thank you the recent letter you signed and sent to Harry Reid demanding that we use reconciliation to bring back the public option and score a big victory for the American people. [Applause] As for going forward on health care reform in the near future, what are our chances that we will get the public option, the government run alternative that will provide real competition to the exploitative, wasteful, and inefficient health care corporate cartel that is gauging American workers and holding this nation back from progress? [Applause]Okay, maybe I didn’t pull a Keith Olbermann and use the word “cartel,” but I did say pretty much everything else. At this point, although I was very impressed with what Gillibrand had been saying prior to my question, I was expecting the same old politician/focus-group-tested-response, like:
Great Question. We are currently working very hard to bring back the public option, and we will all do our best. We need to remember that the most important thing is not the specifics, but that we have some competition, not necessarily in the form of a government plan.But she didn’t say that. Not even close. What she said actually greatly exceeded my expectations, slapping a big smile on my face and unleashing a wave of applause from the crowd. She began by saying that the public option will be hard to enact through reconciliation – a parliamentary procedure that only requires fifty-one votes instead of sixty – given that reconciliation is strictly a budgetary procedure and is thus supposed to be used only for budgetary issues. Albeit “budgetary issues” is vague, the idea here is that reconciliation is supposed to be used only when the budget has changed and the Congress must adjust existing programs to fit the new budget.
With this in mind, Gillibrand sought to find a way around this, and stumbled on something that progressives have been saying all year long. Instead of enacting a brand new “public option” program, why don’t we instead adjust the current public program already in existence – Medicare – to our current budget, i.e., expand Medicare for everyone? If we did this, it could be done completely through reconciliation.
This pronouncement sent me throwing victory fist pumps through the air like Ari Gold. Unbeknownst to most on the right, we already live in a country that has “socialized medicine”: it’s called Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. And unlike the health care that we all have, these programs – although they have problems in their own right – are vastly more popular, more efficient, and a lot cheaper than private insurance.
So the takeaway: Gillibrand was asked about the public option, and responded with Medicare for all.
It's time to take a stand. Medicare for all. Anything less is unacceptable from both an economic point of view or from a moral stance.