Running the Option

Noam Levey and Janet Hook writing in the LaTimes today:

Reporting from Washington – Despite months of outward ambivalence about creating a government health insurance plan, the Obama White House has launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to get divided Senate Democrats to take up some version of the idea for a final vote in the coming weeks. President Obama has cited a preference for the so-called public option. But faced with intense criticism over the summer, he strategically expressed openness to health cooperatives and other ways to offer consumers potentially more affordable alternatives to private health plans.

In the last week, however, senior administration officials have been holding private meetings almost daily at the Capitol with senior Democratic staff to discuss ways to include a version of the public plan in the healthcare bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring to the Senate floor this month, according to senior Democratic congressional aides.

It’s an informative article and worth the read, but it comes across as if this were some big inside scoop.  And it might be (sigh, sadly) given the state of pathetic television media but it shouldn’t be.  Here’s the proverbial random blogger writing in his sweatpants from the basement (note: I do live in a basement suite but my mom doesn’t live upstairs) on August 19th:

2. People are also forgetting (or don’t know I guess) what they should remember which is that Obama has clearly laid out what his plan is.  Again, given what small role he does have, he has a plan for how to maximize it.  Another excellent Ezra post on the subject.  The Team Obama plan is to push hard in conference committee for the kind of plan it wants.  It said so specifically:

Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that’s where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long term? Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren’t losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using. But I’m not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up.

In other words this is basically (by the political timeline if not the news cycle timeline) on target.  Harry Reid is going to try to get a public option through committee. It then forces the wavering Democrats/centrists not just to vote no on a bill with a public option but to support a Republican filibuster.  That can’t be electorally smart.  I’ve always thought the Democrats get a bill through, I think they probably get some kind of trigger or modified public option.  But the real issue for them electorally is how to sell it as a real achievement towards economic revival going forward.

The realist  in me says that’s a tough sell given my sense that the US is in a long running deflationary cycle (h/t John Robb) and that there is no such thing as a “jobless recovery.”  A jobless recovery is just another moment of speculative bubble creation til the next one pops.  And then pops. And then pops some more.

The cynic in me says that even though it can’t really actually work doesn’t mean it can’t be sold politically.  Though it wouldn’t be easy.

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One thought on “Running the Option

  1. I think the motive for the LA Times article is something about narrativizing (whoo, spellcheck hates that) the health care debate — the practice for all those not focusing on the legislative details has been to attach personalities to the various ‘sides’, and many have centered on a story built out of Hamlet-style indecision on Obama’s part. I totally agree that he’s seemed pretty goal-oriented and pragmatic all the way through — not a True Believer with a flaming sword, but just kind of a politician trying to get something done.

    The big news for me in the LA Times article was that press attitudes about what the people want have changed — instead of ‘public wary’ or ‘nobody understands the public option’, most writers are pointing to the last poll cycle, and interpreting its results to mean that public option support is over 50% and probably over 60%. I think that might be the tipping point for the bill: legislative majority plus supportive administration plus public support.

    As for the effects on 2010, I’m not sure that there’s a way out for the Democrats regardless of what passes or how it’s perceived — having pitched a big anti-GWB tent and failed, of course, to please all parts of it, they’re really susceptible to the highly mobilized and motivated Republican base, which will be well lubricated with industry money, and which has a particular gift for getting people out to midterm elections. That the economy is in a painful, long-term crisis seriously compounds the problem.

    But at least we’ll have fewer people coughing up bloody phlegm in the pharmacy while they plead with insurance companies to fulfill their obligations, and fewer people who don’t get to go to the pharmacy at all.

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