Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 24, 2009

A BETTER ANSWER.... On PBS yesterday, Jim Lehrer reminded President Obama that the House health care bill has a public option, while the Senate bill doesn't. (I'm fairly certain he knew that.) As the process enters the final phase, Lehrer asked, "[W]hat's going to be your position when you sit down and talk about this?" The president replied:

"[L]ook, I've been in favor of the public option. I think the more choice, the more competition we have, the better.

"On the other hand, I think that the exchange itself, the system that we're setting up that forces insurance companies to essentially bid for three million or four million or five million people's business, that in and of itself is going to have a disciplining effect.

"Would I like one of those options to be the public option? Yes. Do I think that it makes sense, as some have argued, that, without the public option, we dump all these other extraordinary reforms and we say to the 30 million people who don't have coverage, 'You know, sorry. We didn't get exactly what we wanted'? I don't think that makes sense."

Whether you find that response compelling or not -- it sounds about right to me -- we can probably all agree it's a better response than, "I didn't campaign on the public option."

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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No good idea ever survives Congress intact. There is too much corruption, too many politicians (in the perjorative sense of the word), and too many venal, narcissitic, or stupid people in Congress.

And that's the way it should be if we are to remain a republic.

If anyone on this thread can show me an important political/ideological idea that survived intact through the process of making federal law, I'd welcome the cite. (I am sure that there has to be one.) Almost every sentinel law has started out with flaws to be fixed over a period of decades. Why should this one be different?

Posted by: mikeyes on December 24, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Getting coverage? Not so much. Being forced to purchase coverage? Yeah. Candidate Obama was for the PO and against mandates. President Obama isn't. Whodathunk a complete reversal on his #1 issue.

Posted by: Jay on December 24, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Reasonably good answer, but when ya have a bunch of privately-owned free-enterprise money-making-centered entities, it doesn't really matter whether you have three or seven or fifteen. Having the public option in there would make a huge difference! Having an insurance company that doesn't care whether it makes money would make a large and positive difference to American citizens/patients/customers.

Posted by: Rich2506 on December 24, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, better answer and yet still deceptive.

Sure, he says he wanted it, but wow, he sure had a funny way of showing how he wanted it..so far as I can tell, he overtly threw the towel in on the public option early on (wasn't it last Spring when he declared on Teevee he didn't need to see it in there?)

Now I ask..was that necessary? How did that help?

This IS the part where I do blame him..he had a clear choice to at the very least keep his mouth shut and he had other choices to really speak to it's merits, and he didn't.

Posted by: Insanity on December 24, 2009 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Is it really that hard to treat people like grownups?

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on December 24, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

The deed is done...except the House/Senate synthesis, and we'll see what happens to those 30 million people -- and i may or may not be one of them...

And we'll see what kinda "keepin' down the costs" the "Competition of the Exchange" is gonna be...

(i have this strange feeling that there is a Goldman employee right now figuring out somehow to bank profits on all the dead...)

Posted by: neill on December 24, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, that's a better response, but reveals another problem: he has consistently said "the exchange", singular, in many forums this year. But the Senate calls for 50 separate exchanges, 49 of which don't exist yet, and some of which will be established only reluctantly in states with regulators captured by industry.

Too bad even Lehrer can't follow up on issues like that.

Surely there are some important pieces of the House bill, like the national exchange, where the Obama administration can step up and insist upon and get its way. Right? This may be more telling about administration priorities than the public option.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on December 24, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad to see Obama acknowledge the public option as a proper goal etc. I want him, Reid, Pelosi et al to fight harder to get it or something just as good.

Posted by: neil b on December 24, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Mikeyes, how many good ideas survived "the market" intact in a way which served us well? Remember the Gilded Age, meat and drugs full of filth or poison etc. It's too much like that now, actually. It's absurd to wish the Congress would stay corrupt as you insinuate (BTW, define "Republic" - that means representative government, isn't that what we have? The big threat to that is ideas like "unitary executive" during the Bush admin, so what happened to that idea among "conservatives" now that a Democrat is President?) Most people are adequately happy with Social Security and Medicare per se, they vote against people who threated to cut it (and hypocritical Republicans screech if they are threatened, even while other times slamming at Democrat's plans or government programs in the abstract.)

The Bill stinks so much precisely because of the balance of power, if even fewer Republicans had been elected it would have more controls, less pork etc.

Posted by: neil b, on December 24, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

First, he lied. Now, he's lying again, when he speaks of losing "all these other extraordinary reforms." It's as though he were telling his supporters, "Look, what you heard me say while campaigning, I didn't say. And what you can read in the Senate version of the bill, there really is remarkable stuff there in invisible ink."

Yeah, Steve. That kind of approach makes me glow all over.

Posted by: Balakirev on December 24, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

It's going to be pretty exciting when those thirty million people finally have the opportunity to buy insurance from the corporate entity that holds the monopoly in their state.
Now when people suffer and die as a result of not having health care everyone will know it to be their own fault for not buying insurance.

Posted by: thebewilderness on December 24, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

"I think that the exchange itself, the system that we're setting up that forces insurance companies to essentially bid for three million or four million or five million people's business, that in and of itself is going to have a disciplining effect."

Yes, the Healthcare Exchange fairy will make sure that happens.

Posted by: Joe Friday on December 24, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

neil b,

Funny you should mention the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. That law, which essentially survives today after a lot of tweaking, was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by TR Roosevelt. (Of course it was not the same Republican party that is now the minority.)

In 1906 public was ready and willing to accept this radical change for a variety of reasons: the rise of scientific medicine, muckraking journalists who fought the companies who were killing people with bad products, a progressive president who had been in office for more than a year (on his second term), and a perceived need for change that had been accepted by a large majority of the populace. As far as I can tell those conditions don't exist right now if the polls are correct.

Even then there were flaws in the law. Much of it was driven by the temperance movement. Coca-Cola was sued in federal court for the caffiene content in the drink. (Coke won the case but decreased the amount of caffiene anyway because of future suits and good business sense.) The law had to be tweaked many times and evolved well beyond any dreams of reformers of the time due to ongoing scientific discoveries. It was not born the perfect law by any means and there were a lot of politics involved in the making.

My point is that with a law such as this (or social security or medicare or voter's rights, ect.) there is no way that Congress is going to pass the perfect law, whatever that is. The stupid venal narcissistic people that are elected as our representatives all have an ulterior motive in addition to any idealistic one that may be driving them, they want to be re-elected. And that means soliciting money from those who have it and getting the vote out. As a result no one is free of corrupting influences even if they make an effort not to give in. In fact there is a fairly big body of evidence to this effect. If someone pays you, you tend to play their tune.

One of the problems that the public option and other laudable parts of the house bill has is that there is not enough political pressure from voters or enough information being pushed to counter the Republican disinformation machine. Readers here may think that a cheap alternative will cause companies to compete with a better product (the current health insurance situation is that most states are the feifdoms of one or two big insurers so there is no real competition and the incentive is to keep the third competitor out) but it is not that well known or accepted outside of wonkdom.

On the other hand, in 1906 people were demanding change and a lot of this was driven by the yellow press and novels such as The Jungle by Sinclair Lewis. I see nothing of the sort on cable, the internet or print media having the same influence.

I stated that "And that's the way it should be if we are to remain a republic" because there is no other way to do what we do without the inclusion of all those reprobates in Congress. A republic is government by representatives (I assume you know that) but only those 500,000 people in each district have the right to elect their congressman/woman and each state their senators. Unless you want to appoint them yourself, it can't be changed. So we have to learn to deal with the mess and this last bill is a good example of what happens in an environment that is not favorable. I am not trying "to wish the Congress would stay corrupt ", just pointing out the way the system seems to work. If you have a better idea, let us know.

On the other hand, it is a start and if it is perceived as a good idea by the voters, it will get easier to change and add. The Pure Food and Drug Act had many revisions and separate related laws added (one of them banned marijauna) as time went on and most of them were beneficial. A few were not. It is still not a perfect law.

Posted by: mikeyes on December 24, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Did the pure food and drug act shovel money at the same companies that were selling contaminated goods and require people to buy from those companies while simultaneously putting in place no controls with any actual effect?

Cause then the two situations are quite analogous.

Posted by: Tlaloc on December 24, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Mikeyes, would you agree as answer to "If you have a better idea, let us know", restoring majority rule is a start? As for Republicans passing regulation back in the day: yes, they were different then under Teddy R. Today's Republicans are not rational patricians trying to weigh reasonable regulation versus still being able to do good business, they are petty loons.

Posted by: neil b on December 24, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK



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