Public option may be dropped from health care reform bill

Posted on August 16, 2009

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With crumbling support and fiery town hall meeting protests, the “public option” may be dropped from the current versions of the health care reform bill. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the public option “was not the essential element” of the Obama administration plan for health care reform, and the President himself said that the public option “is not the entirety” of health care reform. Nice try, both of you, but the public option, lobbied and pushed for by so many liberal activist groups, remains a central portion of the Obama administration’s plan, and scrapping it would be a major setback.

In its place is a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad to have consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives that sell insurance similar to electric and agriculture co-ops. Such a plan sounds more palatable and workable, but as always, the devil is in the details and in the implementation. Though it sounds better, I’ll reserve judgment until I see how such a plan might operate.

Such indications don’t in any way mean that the public option is dead. Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson said it would be “very, very difficult” to support a bill that lacked a public insurance option and suggested that Speaker Pelosi tell the White House the omission of a public option would be a deal-breaker for the House Democratic Caucus. The problem, however, is that the plan is losing popularity with the American people, and Sen. Conrad admits flat-out that it’s futile to “chase the rabbit” of a public option because “there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been.” That wouldn’t preclude the public option being absent in bills voted on by the House and Senate but being restored in conference committee as Ed Morrissey hypothesizes. Such an act would be an absolute breach of the public trust, but not out of the realm of possibility for public option advocates who want their plan enacted by any means necessary.

What it does is set up a showdown between passionate supporters of a government-run insurance option and increasingly nervous Democratic Congressmen and Senators who want to save their electoral hide. Hovering above it all is a President with plummeting poll numbers and a desperate desire to see some sort of enactment of a central part of his domestic agenda.

The signs today might be encouraging, but by no means is the battle yet finished.

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Posted in: News, Politics