Obama’s Speech: Trapped In the Gap Between Action and Rhetoric
The President did a great job last night on selling the country on
the need for health care reform. He made the moral case, and every
metric indicates that people were overwhelmingly moved to support his
plan. That's the good news for the White House.
The not so good news: the White House has been trying to get out
from under the burden of supporting the public option for weeks. The
trouble is, every time they try to do it, the President's numbers take
a huge hit. And so last night he came out and indicated that a public
plan would be a part of his reform package. Today on the White House
website, under "The Obama Plan," it says:
If You Don't Have Insurance
Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and
those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.
The website is not so quick to commemorate the qualifiers regarding this public plan from last night's speech:
- "The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal."
- "For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies." (triggers)
- "Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring." (co-ops)
The administration's inability to close the gap between
expectations and reality is a boon for progressives members of
Congress. Earlier this week, the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus --
Raul Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey -- wrote a letter
urging the President to mention it in his speech. I spoke with Rep.
Grijalva yesterday, and he reiterated the need for the President to
mention it in his speech. As long as the President keeps expressing
his support for a public option, they -- and we -- can quite rightly
say that we're only insisting on something Obama himself endorses,
something he campaigned on.
Of course, the actions of the White House betray quite a different intent. The deals they have negotiated with health care industry stakeholders
do not include a public plan, they don't believe they can back out of
them without triggering a rush of lobbyist money to GOP coffers. At
some point there will be a day of reckoning when the public understands
that the public option is gone. The White House wants to stop their
opponents -- and let's face it, progressives who are insisting on the
inclusion of a public plan are at this point their opponents -- from
being able to exploit that gap. Because every day that goes by the
base gets more and more wedded to the promise of a public plan,
encouraged by the positive rhetoric of the President himself. And it
becomes that much harder for the White House to extract itself from the
double bind they have created without paying a huge political price.
One day the 11 dimensional chess set is going to have to come to
terms with the fact that Rahm Emanuel worked with Max Baucus to cut
deals that they force into the House through the Blue Dogs, and that the goals of the White House are not at odds with those of the Blue Dogs. Which is why Rahm protects them. And why we keep hearing things like this:
Remember back on Friday, President Obama discussed the public option
on a conference call with House liberals?... Well that meeting never
happened. [I]t doesn't seem to suggest that House liberals are being
roped in to the health care negotiations between the House and the
Meanwhile, the President meets with the Blue Dogs this morning.
And the football keeps inching down the field.