Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back from the Dead - Harry Reid's Public Option

Just in time for Halloween, Harry Reid has raised the dead. Like a zombie from a cheesy horror flick, the public option is now once again roaming the halls of Congress. In a recent announcement, Senate Majority leader Reid stated the newest version of health care legislation would be heading to a vote in the Senate with a government-run public option included.

Setting aside for a moment the foolishness of a public option, Reid’s insistence on including this provision in a plan is utterly baffling. The public option was killed over the summer when Democrats realized the political infeasibility of the concept. The Democrats simply did not have the votes in the Senate to avoid a Republican-led filibuster. The Democrats need every single member of their caucus (58 Democrats and 2 Independents) to agree with the plan in order to push it through without Republican support. The political reality indicated that this just was not possible. If one Democrat wavered the entire plan would fail. And so, wisely the Democrats seemed to move on from the public option. After all, they profess that their real goal is to achieve much needed health-care reform.

Reid’s move to bring back the discussion on the public-option is a step backwards. Nothing has changed to indicate a different political environment. In fact, shortly after his announcement Olympia Snowe, the sole Republican to have voted with Democrats on some health-care related issues, backed off from her cross aisle move. She indicated she would work with Republicans to quash any health care reform that included a public option. Snowe’s rebuke was quickly followed by one from Joe Lieberman – one of the two Independents who caucuses with the Democrats. With Lieberman’s defection a public option is undoable.

So what are the left-wing Democrats trying to accomplish? The inclusion of a public option will sink any reform bill. If the Democrats truly want to reform healthcare, they need to face the reality that it cannot (nor should not – see a prior post on ANR) include a public option. Reid’s gambit seems to lead to nothing but a dead end – torpedoing the Democrats’ and Obama’s crown jewel.

Ironically, it appears that Reid is sabotaging any chance at Democrat-led healthcare reform. One possible explanation is that the Democrats are in such internal disagreement that they cannot design any plan that is amenable to all wings of the party. The tensions between the leftists and the centrists are running high. In order to avoid a failure based on the Democrats’ inability to compromise, Reid is setting up a surefire way to fail that can be pegged on supposed Republican obstructionism. At the end of the day, Democrats will point to the ‘anti-reform’ Republicans who successfully filibustered their plan, rather than their own ranks for the political failure to pass a reform bill. If one is going to fail, at least make it look like it is someone else’s fault.

The Wall Street Journal offers another relatively plausible explanation for Reid’s maneuver. Reid might be offering the plan knowing full well that he will have to drop the public option. The WSJ writes;

He could then tell the left that he did his best, only to have been beaten back to the unreliable likes of Mr. Lieberman….Meanwhile, such endangered swing-state Democrats as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas could claim they won a great concession if the public option fails, making it easier for them to vote for a final bill that would still do enormous harm to private insurance and the federal fisc.
Reid and his cronies could be trying to push the negotiating grounds leftward in order to achieve a more Democrat-friendly outcome. This is a risky move, but opens an opportunity for Republicans. Senate Republicans should point out the foolishness of Reid’s insistence for a public option. They can easily turn the tables on the Democrats, by branding them obstructionist. How can the Democrats claim to be solving our health care problem if they are offering proposals that clearly are not passable? However, such a strategy necessitates a counter-proposal – something the Republicans have been lacking. A successful Republican-led reform will offer America the right kind of health care fix and deal the final deathblow to the leftist Democrats’ socialist ambitions. Let’s put a nail in this coffin for good.


  1. Josh--

    I'll delve further into the public-option debate at a later time, but I'd like to say that I find your label of "Democrats' socialist ambitions" offensive. We live in a social democracy, however you cut it, one which leans heavily on sacred-cow "socialist" institutions like social security, medicaid and medicare, the latter of which was rejected by Republicans for a generation before they shamelessly traded in their values this summer to be the "protectors" of it.

    Meanwhile, the public/private hybrid system the Democrats are proposing is not Canadian or English in nature (though both countries enjoy high approval of their health-care systems). It's more similar to France's, which was rated the number-one health-care system in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000, the last year of that group's rankings.

    It's funny how narrow and fleeting memories can be; it was the Bush administration that pushed for and signed the UNFUNDED mandate of Bush's 2003 Medicare prescription drug package, an obscene albatross of a social program that will cost, by some reports, well over a $1 trillion, just over the next decade alone.

    In contrast, today's House proposal is deficit-friendly, according to the Congressional Budget Office (whose stats were used to slam the Democrats incessantly over the summer when their data contradicted Pelosi's talking points). I won't hold my breath expecting the GOP to embrace the CBO now, because for them to do so would stand in the face of a decade of ridiculous fiscal irresponsibility.

    Such disagreements are miniscule compared to the outrage of calling Democrats "socialist," with the explicit indictment that such policies serve not just to further Obama's fairly centrist agenda -- you know, the one he was elected to fulfill by a landslide last year -- but to undermine the very foundation of American liberty and open society.

    I assume you were offended when extremist liberals called Bush "fascist" and other such hyperboles during his presidency; I'd expect more restraint and maturity from you than to trade similar barbs.


  2. Karl~

    Thanks for your comment. If you read what I wrote I was not calling Obama or even Democrats socialists. What I said was "leftist Democrats’ socialist ambitions" - a reference to the left-wing of the Democrat Party. I don't think many would disagree that a certain element with the Party has socialist tendencies (at a minimum). This was what I was referring to.
    After all my premise, is that Reid's leftward tack has alienated many of the centrist Democrats who most certainly are not socialists. Like it or not, but government run health insurance is a socialist policy. While the "public option" might be a supposed hybrid, many on the right fear, while many of the far left hope that it will be a stepping stone to a full government run health insurance. This is the socialist ambitions that I refer to.



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