Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 18, 2009

'ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED'.... The Obama administration seems to be putting some effort into reiterating its support for a public option today. Indeed, given the uproar over the last 48 hours, the White House almost seems to be arguing, "What's everyone so excited about?"

The Obama administration is not backing away from its support for a public option as part of health-care reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed Tuesday.

"Here's the bottom line: Absolutely nothing has changed," Sebelius said.

"We continue to support the public option. That will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest. If people have other ideas about how to accomplish these goals, we'll look at those, too. But the public option is a very good way to do this."

Sebelius' comments on Sunday -- she told CNN a public option is "not the essential element" of reform -- helped fuel speculation that the administration was willing to drop the measure from the legislation. Today, Sebelius told conference attendees, "All I can tell you is that Sunday must have been a very slow news day."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Democratic lawmakers, worried about a possible shift, overreacted to media reports. Gibbs added that this wasn't a trial balloon. "If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing three months ago, and it just got picked up," he said. "It's crazy. It's not a signal."

I tend to think Sebelius' and Gibbs' remarks are a little coy. No one, including the president, voiced a shift in administration policy, but it was hard to miss the fact that several prominent White House voices all started talking publicly -- over the same weekend -- about the possibility of reform without a public option. "Absolutely nothing has changed"? I suspect that's true -- Obama and his team wanted a public option before and still want one now. But the key here is whether the president expects to see a public option if/when a bill reaches his desk, and how much effort he'll put into making that happen.

For what it's worth, the public option isn't dead, and the rather ferocious response from progressive Dems showed that its base of support remains enthusiastic about the idea. Ezra noted today, "It's a fairly safe bet that the House bill will include a public option and the Senate bill will have a weak public option or some version of a co-op plan. Then the two will meet. What happens then?"

A conference committee, where the president apparently intends to shape the bill the way he wants it.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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It's quite possible to have a sane, rational process where the President of his own party with big majorities gets the bill he wants, with, you know, a bill he wants.

I trust an Obama conference committee as much as I do Rush Limbaugh. It reeks of failure.

The absurdity of conference yet again drives home the point of how terrible this bicameral process is, months of jockeying and work only to be tossed in a few days to get the real bill. Maybe.

Please. It's so disgraceful, all of it, every day.

Posted by: paradox on August 18, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

"All I can tell you is that Sunday must have been a very slow news day."

That is an astoundingly arrogant remark.

Gee, Secretary, why do you think your statement might have gotten reported, and why do you think people might have been highly interested in it, particularly given all the other talk from the administration about the possible disposability of the public option?

What is wrong with these people?

Posted by: shortstop on August 18, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

That is an astoundingly arrogant remark.

Yeah they even juked the stock market: Health-Care Stocks Rally as 'Obamacare' Falters

Posted by: koreyel on August 18, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Folks I need your help. If we are going to get a government option we must turn the tide. Instead of complaining about those dirty tricks the conservatives are playing we must go on the offensive. How you ask? My idea is to use scare tatics just like they do. See My Answer To Sarah Palin on facebook and get the word out. flood the internet with insurance companies rejections, turning down common proceedures as experimental, post every law suite you can find they yhey lost. Print their ceo and upper management salaries and bonuses and corp profits. Expose which hospitals they own. Go on the offensive the other side expects us to just sit back and cry. Lets let them know what they are standing for. The public wanted a government option before they started to scare them it won't be as hard as it looks to scare them back to our side. Then once the ball is rolling our way (after Labor day and we must pound once twice a day till then) we start exposing the liars and the techniques like bring conservative forieners to host the Limbaugh radio show and tell horror stories. One more thing the government option is more like Blue Cross Blue Sheild than it is like medicare or medicade people just don't understand the it is just a competitive plan to Cigna and United Health etc that will make them streemline their plans and actually pay for something. Please help start today

Posted by: Mattress Answer Man on August 18, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

It seems obvious what really happened; the Obama folks were trying to prepare the ground for abandoning the public option, and they were surprised by the outrage. They spend so much time talking to Republicans and Blue Dogs that they forgot about the base.

Posted by: Joe Buck on August 18, 2009 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

You/Ezra conclude: "...the House bill will include a public option and the Senate bill will have a weak public option or some version of a co-op plan. Then the two will meet (in a) conference committee, where the president apparently intends to shape the bill the way he wants it."

Yes. Then House and Senate have to vote on conference bill. Then President gets to sign or veto.

I've been trying in my posts here to get people to chill and look at the process that is unfolding. This is the overall Constitutional process, and I think you and Ezra are right about the likely outcome. It's going to take quite a while and be very messy. First exposure we've had to real legislative process in a long time, and maybe (given new media environment) most moment-by-moment scrutinized in history.

I think Repub hysterics, lies, hypocrisies, threats, stupidities, and ever more obvious intransigence make this outcome more and more likely. As I said in a response to a previous post, they are in a hole and they can't stop digging. Grassley is really making the dirt fly. They are abandoning all of their good ideas that almost everyone is actally for (end-of-life counseling by docs, Medicare cost controls, home visits by nurses) and becoming the party of an ever more loudly shouted "NO!"

Just as Obama used SC nomination to make an appointment which baited Repubs into pissing off Hispanics, he's using this process to let Great Plains/Mountain West Dems make their case. Guys like Tester gave us a majority and Franken got us to 60. Let's build our party while getting good people into office and doing good works.

To quote Krugman again, "we can do this."

Posted by: CMcC on August 18, 2009 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Message to Obama administration: DON'T FUCK WITH THE BULL, OR YOU WILL GET THE HORN.

If that was a trial balloon, it got blown to pieces about six feet off the ground.

It's time to start paying attention to the people who got you into office.

Posted by: bdop4 on August 18, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

I've been trying in my posts here to get people to chill and look at the process that is unfolding. -CMcC

And if we'd have listened to the people telling us to 'chill' we wouldn't be happily discussing the White House's lukewarm walk back of their comments this weekend.

On the contrary. We've got their attention; now is the time to redouble our efforts. Let them know we won't be satisfied with mushy, squishy lip-service.

Posted by: doubtful on August 18, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Ed Schultz is on air screaming about Sebelius' comments and how Obama has dropped the "public option". Learn how to play chess Ed. What is being said, has been said and has always been said is that Obama stands for a public option...OR ANY OTHER IDEA THAT IS JUST AS GOOD. Being open to other ideas does not mean dropping the public option. Obama needs the bill OUT OF COMMITTEE,Ed and suggesting he's open to other ideas allows some who are just stalling and delaying any bill to start believing they can pass a bill without a public option and so throw the idea of Co-ops or whatever out there and might FINALLY get a bill out of committee, even if it does not contain a public option. A-ha...AT LAST A BILL OUT OF COMMITTEE, now we can put the public option back in and throw out this co-op nonsense and get it passed via the reconciliation process and reconciled with the House bill. CAN'T DO ANYTHING UNTIL IT GETS OUT OF COMMITTEE, ED. and no one is saying no public option just saying open to other ideas does not mean no public option but open to something just as good...like allowing people the option of buying into Medicare...that's as good as a public option Ed, and falls into the category of "other ideas". Get a grip Ed. Stop calling conservadems members of the democratic party. The majority of democrats favor reform if we ever get a chance to vote on it, more than 51 favor it.

btw...there are 3 parties involved here and republicans are one, the dems are 2, Progressives, and conservadems who are republican lite

Posted by: bjobotts on August 18, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Dog whistle? WTF?

Gibbs: "If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing three months ago, and it just got picked up," he said. "It's crazy. It's not a signal."

They've had a web site up asking for money in which the Public Option isn't a small slice of the pie; rather, it is arguably one-third of the whole pie. It is one of their fundamental principles...

If the administration is blowing some sort of damn dog whistle here, it is way past time to translate the frequency for ordinary human ears...

[Would someone please take the shovel out of Mr Gibbs hands?]


Posted by: koreyel on August 18, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

What we have seen, over the past couple of days, is a whole schlew of Republican lawmakers who have jumped on this to state that even if the public option is pulled they won't support reform.

Maybe this is a good thing? As Steve has pointed out over and over again, if there's nothing Dems can do to satisfy them, then why are we negotiating with them? Perhaps this weekend's "slow news day" will help that fact finally sink in with the Democrats in control of the process.

Posted by: Shantyhag on August 18, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Ezra noted today, "It's a fairly safe bet that the House bill will include a public option and the Senate bill will have a weak public option or some version of a co-op plan. Then the two will meet. What happens then?"

Here's a prediction for you. No bill that contains a public option will get a floor vote in either the House or the Senate.

We already know this about the Senate because no such bill will be able to get 60 votes to end debate. But, in the House, enough of the Blue Dogs will join with the entire GOP members to defeat any such bill. The liberal House Leadership will not risk losing a vote on the public option, so they won't allow such a bill to get to the floor.

Posted by: Chicounsel on August 18, 2009 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Dog Democrats should be told plain and simple that doing the bidding of the insurance companies will result in them being targeted on election day by a massive wave of anger from phone banks aimed at their constituents for sabotaging insurance reform. Blue Dogs will be Dead Dogs for taking insurance company bribes to deprive the public of an affordable national health plan.

Enough is enough. Get in line or expect defeat next election.

Posted by: deejaayss on August 18, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

To doubtful, who says "And if we'd have listened to the people telling us to 'chill' we wouldn't be happily discussing the White House's lukewarm walk back of their comments this weekend."

Chill doesn't mean let up on the pressure to pass the best bill possible. It means keep things in perspective (especially the key points in the legislative process that are all ahead of us), look for opportunities to push the Repubs further down into their hole, avoid over-reacting to moment-by-moment happenings, try to understand and make things easy for fellow Dems.

Bjobotts has a good post above, urging us to think in terms of chess -- and urging Ed to, in effect, chill until we get some kind of a bill out of what will be the 5th committee. Very good reasoning. I've been urging people to think in terms of the long game, so make that game chess. Regarding point at end, I would almost argue that the Repubs are not really a party in this process (well, a couple probably are, but they're mostly in hiding). The Repubs have taken themselves out. Giving them the space to do that, letting that become more and more obvious (letting them build up a record which will look worse and worse as time goes by) will, I think, be a good thing in the end. What has really amazed me is that at the very moment the Repubs take the bait Obama and the Dems have dangled before them and make it clear that they are out of the game, leading liberals decide that's the moment to declare defeat.

So, learn how to play chess, Ed. Also Bob Herbert, Eugene Robinson, etc.

Having said that, keep up the pressure.

Posted by: CMcC on August 18, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

...urging us to think in terms of chess... -CMcC

Chess is a civilized game; politics is not.

Perhaps we should all think in terms of chess boxing.

Posted by: doubtful on August 18, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

It will all come to rest on whether senate dems will support a republicant filibuster or not. If a bill comes up for a vote it will pass in the senate.

Will senate dems go on record as obstructionists, preventing this major piece of legislation from even being voted on? This is what it will rest on.

The House will have the votes since the blue dogs are not unanimous in opposing it.

So the whole thing will come down to this: will the senate dems prevent HC refrom bill from even being voted on by joining with republicans in a filibuster?

Posted by: bjobotts on August 18, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

btw...Conrad saying we never had the votes in the senate for a public option he overlooks that by that logic we didn't have the votes in the senate for any reform bill what-so-ever, including co-ops, no matter what it contains as senate republicans have vowed to filibuster ANY reform bill. We do have enough votes to prevent a filibuster though Conrad if we go by way of reconciliation.

Posted by: bjobotts on August 18, 2009 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Some ways to keep up the pressure.

(1) Expose corporate contributions.

(2) Stolen from the Rude Pundit: "The push for health care reform needs to be presented as a civil rights movement." I think this has some real promise. Why should some vets and seniors, as well as the poor on Medicaid, get government guarantees that the rest of us don't? This is an "equal protection" civil rights issue. The millions without insurance and those made bankrupt or denied coverage are being treated as second-class citizens.

(3) If you can, talk about religion; for sure, talk about morality. Growing up in church, I learned all about how Jesus healed and how he reached out to those in need -- lepers, the blind, the crippled. He didn't ask if they had insurance. I think I've read that some of the more liberal churches are planning a campaign for later on -- does anyone know what's happening here? Remember that religion played a big part in the civil rights movement. Since then, the Repubs have relied heavily on fundamentalist Christians. If conservatives can be reached at all, and we need keep reaching out as Obama is so inclined to do, it is on WWJD grounds. All of those "Bible-believing Christians" need to be put on the spot. The contradictions between Christianity and capitalism need to be driven home. Those of us who can speak from this perspective, or from any other religous perspective for that matter, should start doing so. This is a moral issue.

(4) As a follow-on to the above point, we need to expose "The Family." I'm about half way through Jeff Sharlet's book. We all know about the ties between the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson sorts and the Repub party. This "family" is something on a whole different level. A shadowy, elite organization. Very un-Christian, actually. Very un-American, by any publicly professed standard of Americanism. As Rachel and Jeff reported last night, even conservative Christians are beginning to react to what has come out about the Family. Many, many key Repubs are part of this (and a few Dems -- who need to have their ties exposed, along with their campaign contributions).

(5) National pride. It is just flat-out embarrassing, not to mention economically stupid, that we spend over 16% of GDP on health care and no other advanced nation is over 11. This might be worthwhile if we got better outcomes, but we don't. There are all sorts of measures that can be cited, from life-expectancy to wait times for basic care. This is another way that we can build our case going forward that will have some appeal to independents and conservatives. Yes, this is an appeal to flag-waving patriotism.

Bottom line: the Repubs are giving us a chance to hammer them on moral values and patriotic pride. Use these themes to appeal to fellow Dems and any receptive Repubs -- and hammer the rest.

Posted by: CMcC on August 18, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

IMO, HHS Secretary Sebelius' remarks on Sunday were a trial balloon to gauge the level of resistance to the idea of dropping the public option. Guess what, Madame Secretary? The public WANTS this option. And oh, Mr. Obama, I am waiting for a demonstration of cajones rather than any variant of "pragmatissm" or "bipartisanship" that you may call upon. Drop the consensus costuming. Find the votes. Demand the votes...

Posted by: Chris C on August 18, 2009 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama stands up to the Blue Dogs and Conservadems and beats them -- i.e., gets a strong public option in the final legislation -- he should be much stronger and they much weaker over the next three years. It's difficult to know how much better off the country will be if that happens, but my guess is a lot, since that outcome will also likely weaken the Republicans even more.

If the Republicans play true to form, that outcome may cause them to move even further to the right. The so-called moderates -- Snowe and Collins, who have more power in the Democratic Party than they do in the GOP -- will be further marginalized within their own party. That might even push one or both to seriously consider a party switch.

And all Obama has to do is fight the Blue Dogs and Conservadems and beat them. So why am I so worried?

Posted by: oh really on August 18, 2009 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

It seems obvious what really happened; the Obama folks were trying to prepare the ground for abandoning the public option, and they were surprised by the outrage. They spend so much time talking to Republicans and Blue Dogs that they forgot about the base.

Or they're using the base to pressure the Blue Dogs. Given that Sen. Nelson has apparently been getting into screaming matches with radio hosts (see Steve's mini-report above), I think it may be working.

Floating trial balloons isn't the worst way to gauge how your base is feeling. I think the administration now has a very clear picture of how we're feeling.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on August 18, 2009 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

"absolutely nothing has changed"

INDEED:
Afghanistan
Iraq
mainlining tax dollars to the Banksters
unemployment
Middle East miasma
and on and on and on...

not even daylight...

i am glad the incompetent criminal thug is gone, and all his incompetent little thugettes.

but i don't see where we haven't got a triangulatin' stepford progressive in his place. you know, like the big dawg.

i supported clinton's campaigns and i continue to work for obama's.

but sooner or later...you wonder wtf...

(and if Chris Bowers says no health care bill's gonna get passed because of me... i can handle the guilt, laughingly...Bowers is makin' money sayin' it. So he can just eat me.)

Posted by: neill on August 18, 2009 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK
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