Obama’s Silence On Public Option Emboldens Obstructionists

by on Monday, December 7, 2009 at 11:03 am in Healthcare, Politics

Obama met with Democratic Senators yesterday at a rare Sunday Democratic caucus to give something of a ‘pep talk’ — which is how he described it to reporters — to encourage them to complete their job of passing health care reform.  He didn’t take questions from the Senators, most of whom were reported as complimentary of the President’s speech.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told Walter Alarkon of The Hill:

“He reminded us why we’re here, he reminded us why we run for office and he reminded us how many people are counting on us to come through”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said that:

Obama’s message was most effective when he was “putting into context how important [the healthcare bill] was to the economy and what this means in terms of how people judge this Congress and what happens to us.”

What was being discussed most, however, seemed to be what was missing from his speech — guidance on the hotly-contested public option — believed by many to be the most critical component of meaningful Health Care Reform.

Ryan Grimm of The Huffington Post reported that Senator Joe Lieberman — one of a few non-Republican holdouts vowing to filibuster anything resembling a public option — was virtually “beaming” about its absence from Obama’s speech:

The independent who still caucuses with Democrats wanted to point something out to the Majority Leader: Obama didn’t mention the public option.

Lieberman was beaming as he left the room and happy to re-point it out when HuffPost asked him what Obama had said about the public health insurance option, perhaps the most contentious issue still facing Democrats as they negotiate their way toward a final health care reform bill.

“Well, it was interesting to me — of course everybody hears with their own ears — that he didn’t say anything about the public option,” said Lieberman. “In other words, when he outlined how far we’ve come on the bill, he talked about the cost-containment provisions; he talked about the insurance market reforms; and he talked about enabling 30 million more people to get insurance. He said these are historic accomplishments, the most significant social legislation, or whatever you call it, in decades, so don’t lose it.”

Reid told reporters that Lieberman had approached him after the meeting to note the absence of the public option, but that folks shouldn’t read too much into Obama’s silence on the issue. “That doesn’t mean it’s not an issue, because the president didn’t talk about it,” said Reid.

What I find so unsettling about Obama’s continued silence on the public option — especially since we’re now in the 11th hour — is what it reveals about the President himself: that he doesn’t seem to really care if the final bill is a legitimate health care reform bill, or not.  The public option is the ONLY THING that would reign in health care costs.  Everything else being proposed (outside the public option) is just a workaround for the health insurance industry, which is why the industry has been so relentless in defeating the public option.

Obama is keenly aware of the public option’s significance to meaningful health care reform.  He advocated for it in great detail as a candidate on the campaign trail, and yet as President — before the health care debate had even begun — his White House was putting it out to the press that he’d sign a health care reform bill without one.  Either Obama has been compromised (i.e. has cut a backroom deal with the health insurance industry), or his only motivation all along has been to score a quick political victory at any cost; even if it produces a bill so watered down as to be ineffective in providing affordable health care to all Americans.

In my entire lifetime, I’ve never seen such an inspiring, articulate, intelligent, mobilizing candidate instantly mutate after his victory into a hyper-conciliatory-to-the-point-of-appearing-timid President.  Most Presidents — rightly or wrongly — believe their election victories accord them a mandate to push through whatever promises got them elected.  They aggressively take ownership of their party’s legislative agenda.  When a President wins a decisive victory while his party controls both Houses in Congress, it is like a resounding mandate to run roughshod over the opposition.

And yet, here is President Obama, our ‘change agent’ — having won a decisive victory and whose party controls both Houses — gone MIA on what has been described as his biggest priority initiative — health care reform.   Instead of promoting HIS priorities, and lobbying members of Congress to get on board — essentially leading — he sheepishly punts to Congress to figure it all out, offering no leadership, nor insight into what he expects to see in the bill.  Which would suggest that he doesn’t really care; he just wants a bill — any bill — whether it provides meaningful health care reform, or not.

By failing to display some much-needed party leadership — i.e. by resisting to pressure Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dogs to join Democrats in achieving their most important legislative victory since FDR — Obama’s ‘pep talk’ seemed to only embolden their resolve for further obstructionism on meaningful health care reform.

Which brings me to the question: whose side are you on, Mr. President?


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