Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 23, 2010

WH: PUBLIC OPTION LACKS NECESSARY CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT.... There's been ample speculation in recent days about where the White House stands on the public option, and how far it's willing to go to help make it happen. Last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration would "absolutely" support the provision if that's what lawmakers decided to pursue, and yesterday, Robert Gibbs said the issue is up to the Senate leadership.

So, why does it seem as if the White House is reluctant to stick its neck out on this? Apparently because the West Wing doesn't think the votes are there.

Gibbs said flatly that the White House doesn't believe there's enough support in Congress to get it passed.

Asked directly whether the President's failure to include the public option in his proposal means he views the public option as dead, Gibbs didn't exactly dispute this interpretation.

"There are some that are supportive of this," Gibbs said. But he added: "There isn't enough political support in the majority to get this through."

It's certainly possible that Gibbs' analysis is correct. In the Senate, public option supporters have quickly put together an impressive group of signatures in support of the provision. But even now, the total is less than half of what's needed -- and Rockefeller's comments yesterday make it seem as if a Senate majority may not materialize, regardless of what the White House signals.

But let's also not overlook the House. In my conversations with aides this week, there's a strong sense that the majority is going to need a few (or more) Dems who voted against reform in November to vote for it now. The White House, then, is very likely thinking about how to shape the reform package to make it more attractive to some of the Blue Dogs whose votes will be necessary to ensure passage.

What's more, I realize that Gibbs's response today seems unexpected, but it doesn't strike me as all that surprising -- if the White House thought the votes were there for a public option, the administration would have included the idea in the proposal unveiled yesterday. The fact that the president's version of reform didn't include the idea should have made it pretty clear that the White House thinks, correctly or not, that public option support remains insufficient.

I should note, though, that Gibbs's comments need not be the end of the public option. The White House is under the impression that the votes just aren't there to pass this specific measure, but if proponents on and off the Hill want to prove otherwise, there's still time to do just that. Gibbs didn't say the president opposes the public option -- Obama has said repeatedly he supports the idea, and would like to see it in the final bill -- he just said he thinks the public option lacks the support it needs in Congress.

If public option advocates want to prove Gibbs wrong, now's their chance.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Again, is there going to be any bargaining going on during this session? Why give away a clearly superior option before you even sit down to start bargaining? Bush was an illiterate evil buffoon, but he didn't bargain with himself before bargaining with congress....

Posted by: beyondleft on February 23, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the votes would be there now if he had form the start promoted HCR with the public option with the same vigor he promoted himself during the campaign. Maybe they'd be there eventually if he'd start right now. Lead, dammit! That's what you were elected for.

Posted by: Greg Worley on February 23, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's all a game. I doubt anyone in the Senate really thinks this things will pass. Liberal senators get to be on the record one more time for the PO and Conservadems get to kill it. Each side gets to look good to those they need for reelection. My guess is Gibbs is throwing cold water on this because too many outside DC began to believe it was actually possible. Don't want to raise expectations too high now.

Posted by: NHCt on February 23, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Obama's always been such a huge supporter of the public option, I just can't imagine why the votes never materialized.

Posted by: doubtful on February 23, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

What has been said before.

Limited sample, of course, but no one I know is giving to the Dems or plans to give to the Dems. And lots just aren't going to vote. Hard to argue with them, since the Dems let the conservatives determine everything.

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on February 23, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Look, we are where we are, and that's without even the feeble public option that was in the House bill.

So what about where we are? It Obama's outline-of-a-bill worth it? Will it get insurance coverage for 30+ million people? Check. Will it stop insurance companies for screwing people with pre-existing conditions? Check. Will it close the donut hole in Part D? Check. Will it do quite a number of other things to improve the health and livelihoods and lives of many, many people? Check.

Then, please, can we focus on what might still be possible? Can we set aside, for the present, the desire for what's probably not possible now, and work on what we might be able to do?

Because not just millions of Americans with no or shoddy health-care coverage are at stake: If we lose out on what Obama's proposing now, we may very well see the Republicans moving back into control of Congress. Imagine the consequences of that, and see how many other concerns pale by comparison.

Posted by: K in VA on February 23, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

What Greg Worley said. This president takes the aggressive out of passive-aggressive. Maybe he'd be more comfortable getting coffee for a Clinton.

Posted by: Dale on February 23, 2010 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

There's the picture of the god damn Democratic party for 2009-2010, and they will wear it until the end of time.

Dems in the House, Dems in the Clown Car Senate, and Obama and his minions in the White House:

All sitting there with a finger up their asses and a thumb in their mouths waiting for "the other guy" to lead the way...


Posted by: neill on February 23, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

"In my conversations with aides this week, there's a strong sense that the majority is going to need a few (or more) Dems who voted against reform in November to vote for it now."

So tell us Steve, what could the leadership possibly offer to that Democrat to get him or her to change their no vote against a bill that the public clearly hates to become the 217th vote that passes the bill?

I know how about a promise that Obama will campaign for them. After all, he's 0 for 4 in getting Democrats that he campaigned for elected, so he's bound to back a winner at some point. You could be that lucky one Mr. Blue Dog. So whatta you say? Can we count on your support? LOL

Just as I correctly predicted that Obama will not be able to close Gitmo, here's another prediction: The House will never pass the Senate bill in its current form. And the Senate will not use reconciliation to pass any part of the current legislation. And the Dems will lose both Houses of Congress in November. All made possible by the most incompetent administration and Congressional leadership in the history of the Republic.

It's a win-win for the American people and the GOP.

Thank you President Obama. :-)

Posted by: Chicounsel on February 23, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

How many House Democrats voted against the original bill because it didn't go far enough? Those are the people - I'm looking at you, Dennis Kucinich - who will have to keep the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good.

Posted by: KTinOhio on February 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with K of VA. The thought of Republicans taking Congress is enough to scare me.

I need healthcare reform to pass. My husband has Type I diabetes and has worked for almost 38 years for the same company because it has provided him with healthcare. He covers me. When he retires and goes on Medicare, where will my coverage come from? I need to be able to go on the open market to buy insurance... highly unlikely for my pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, my husband would be willing to buy his own health insurance -- if it were offered -- and then he could retire and start his own business or change employers.

Let's pass this bill and work on getting the public option later.

Also, why isn't anyone stressing the jobs that will be created by enacting the Democrats' plan?

Posted by: pol on February 23, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I just feel bad for the Obama Administration that they are consigned to be observers of the process and are not allowed to take any kind leadership role in shaping it.

It's a shame. If only there were some historical precedents for a President affecting the legislative process and advocating for a "principle" or position.

But we must remember that the Big Pharma sweetheart deal went south, so now the White House is left with just us. And Congressional majorities. And a mandate from the voters to act on health care in The Only Poll That Matters, back in November 2008.

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on February 23, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that this is a legislative issue. The president can do more harm than good by making a big public announcement about this. If the PO will happen, it won't be because of anything he says.

My sense is that it won't. Its original problem was conservadems in the Senate, and now it's conservadems in the House. Senators can sign onto a letter without having to stick their necks out one iota, so I don't place much weight on 24 members being on board, or even 50. Easy to say you like it, easy to blame the House when it doesn't work out.

Besides, if it's needed, it can be added later. This is shaping out to be a good bill that lays the groundwork for further changes down the road as the health system evolves to fit new parameters.

They're taking a big bite out of the issue all at once here. That's not easy. It also doesn't mean the game ends with this bill being signed. There will always be ways to make it better.

That's why progressives can and should never rest easy.

Posted by: itstrue on February 23, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, c'mon now, pol!

For people like Chicounsel, you don't matter. What matters is that the GOP gets to score a "win" if this thing fails.

So what if a million families go bankrupts each year?

So what if tens of thousands die because they have no access to care or can't afford their meds?

So what if we pay twice as much as any other nation, yet get worse results?

So what if an actual public option would SAVE BILLIONS a year?

So what if the current system is completely, utterly, totally unsustainable in both financial and sociological terms?

So what if those whining about "fiscal responsibility" support a system that is the pinnacle of fiscal recklessness?

All that matters is that the GOP gets a win, businesses get to make massive profits, and people like chicounsel get to feel as though they stuck it to liberals.

Note how your life -- and the lives of millions of other Americans -- doesn't factor into their little game.

Posted by: Mark D on February 23, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Mark D,

Whenever I see Chicounsel's comments, I'm always reminded of a headline from The Onion, Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department.

We all know that people like Chicounsel are at the front of the line with their hand out when they need it, but damn anyone else who needs help.

Posted by: doubtful on February 23, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

It is important for Democrats and all supporters of health reform to get behind the President's bill at this point. Too much fuss about reviving a (fairly neutered version of the) public option at this point risks undermining the one remaining chance to affect public opinion, make Dems look effective, and PASS THE DAMN BILL. I am not in favor of this chasing after unicorns at this point.

Posted by: Theda Skocpol on February 23, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

This is kind of three-dimensional chess-y, but how about this: Congress soon passes the Senate HCR bill without the public option.

As it sinks in by mid-summer that we'll have a costly package that mandates participation, and people start seeing the costs that the healthcare industry is about to impose, won't voter pressure build to add the public option, or at least intense regulation?

It seems to me that the election-time debate then becomes: "We Democrats wanted the public option that would control costs, but Republicans objected to it" -- instead of "Look at this expensive health plan the Dems are forcing down your throat."

If the electorate is all about results, it isn't going to care whether Republicans voted against the Dems' health plan. It'll care what Republicans are going to do about the costs now, since the possibility of repeal is practically nonexistent.

With that reframing of the debate, I suspect many Republicans would think twice about opposing the public option if it's put on the table in, say, mid-September.

Posted by: beejeez on February 23, 2010 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

If the votes for the PO aren't there, what's so bad?
Propose the PO amendment, take a vote. If the majority vote for it, it's in. If not, it's out.

Wanting to have a vote on it? Why would they be against having a vote.

Oh - because they don't want to be seen holding the knife when the lights come back on.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on February 23, 2010 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Without the public option, HCR is irrelevant cover to huge insurance company rate hikes. Is this the spineless leadership Reid and Obama want to convey? They should make no more efforts to fund- raise with their "base." Utterly disgusted with Republicans and Republican Lites these days.

Posted by: Sparko on February 23, 2010 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Without the public Option it will be quickly ruled unconstitutional, they know it, and we know it.

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on February 23, 2010 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Do you realize that without an institutional component anything you pass can be easily washed away by the first ill(republican) wind to come along. Do you think SocSec, Medicare, etc.,etc.,etc. would still exist if they were easy to obliterate? Institutions have inertia, adjustments don't.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 23, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

No Public Option, no mandate to purchase a policy and no penalties if you don’t.

When the weasels in the Congress that represent the insurance industry start whining that they need everybody to buy health insurance, then fine, pass the Public Option and then we’ll pass the mandate.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 23, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

That's bullshit. The Whitehouse has hated the idea of any actual progressive solutions to this since the beginning.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 23, 2010 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Without the public Option it will be quickly ruled unconstitutional, they know it, and we know it."

Whatever makes you think that? SCOTUS is currently a political body. They will just make another one time preposterous exception. They are above the law.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 23, 2010 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

the president doesn't want a public option.

It's so much easier to say the votes are not there.

Since it has been popular they have been fighting a rear guard action to first kill it through neglect. Then when it still wouldn't die, make it jump through dangerous hoops. It died and now that it looks like it might live again, they are being Henry II saying " Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"

They want it dead. They just don't want their hands on it to be seen.

Hiding though keeps getting harder and harder.

Posted by: debcoop on February 23, 2010 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK



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