Mixed messages being sent on public option

Posted on August 17, 2009

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One day after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Obama both said a public option wasn’t essential to health care reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a public option needs to be a part of the health care overhaul. She said there was strong support in the House for the public option, joining Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Jay Rockefeller in a push to keep the public option intact in the planned reform of the American health care system.

At the same time, Blue Dog Democrat Allen Boyd said at a town hall that Congress may need to start over on health care reform, and even Howard Dean says that without a public option, health care reform should wait until another time. Throw in Rep. Anthony Weiner threatening that dropping the public option will cost 100 progressive House votes and you have a bag of mixed messages leaving the fate of the public option in rhetorical limbo.

It all adds up to a palpable fear by moderate Democrats that voting for a public option will be an act of political suicide. That Sebelius and Obama were both willing to distance themselves from a government plan confirms that they believe the opposition to the option, far from astro-turfed and ginned-up, is very real and very viable. It could be, as Ed Morrissey and Michelle Malkin suggest, that the distancing was more of a trial balloon than an actual retreat, but that to me signals even more of a problem for Democrats as it would be a further commitment to a leftist agenda and would represent a dangerously stubborn refusal to seek any sort of compromise over a government-run plan.

There are some ideologically committed Democrats who will vote blindly for the public option based on narrow principles and long-held wishes, like Rep. Eric Massa who flat-out said that to pass the public option, he would “vote against the interests of his district”, which he incidentally smears as one of the most “right-wing” in New York. The left may cheer him as a selfless hero, but on such a potent issue as this, to be so willfully apathetic to the wishes of your constituents seems at least a slight subversion of the democratic process, and a contributing reason to the extreme dissatisfaction with both parties in Washington.

It’s further proof that no one should be lulled into the false assumption that a government-run and taxpayer-funded public option is dead. Even if it is, it’s but one facet of the multi-headed health care reform debate that includes individual mandates to buy health insurance and a complete lack of malpractice and tort reform. It also signals an escalation in the internal Democratic battle over how to approach health care reform between pragmatic moderates and committed liberals who refuse to consider a compromise on the public option.

This debate holds dire ramifications for the Democratic party. If the centrists/moderates/conservatives/Blue Dogs are able to win the day and champion a far more palatable version of health care reform, then the Democrats will be able to rightfully reclaim some credibility among most of the American people for reaching across the aisle and accomplishing something of merit to both sides. If the liberal ideologues like Pelosi, Weiner, Waters, and others have their way, which seems ever more likely, with a rejection of any ideas but their own the Democrats will cast themselves further into the liberal mold and farther away from the centrist interests of the American people.

The debate over the public option is far from over, and everyone should remember that there are still other issues that deserve our attention. This is why such a sweeping and complex issue such as this deserves all the time that we can muster to examine the issues and ramifications, and why any rush to “get something passed” is a dangerous proposition.

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Posted in: News, Politics