Monday, September 28, 2009

The Administration and the Public Option

In an interview with Charlie Rose the other day, Rahm Emanuel once again tried to throw the public option under the bus by downplaying the chances it had to pass the senate.

Thankfully Rahm isn't a Senator, and we have Sherrod Brown to set him straight on what the Democratic caucus wants.

While this wasn't a groundbreaking moment in the health care debate, it once again stirred up the ongoing debate in the blogsphere over the role of the Obama Administration in the Health Care fight. And while this isn't an issue of enormous importance, there are enough misconceptions out there that it's probably worth setting things straight about the role the White House is playing.

Point One: Rahm Emanuel is not "at war" within the administration over the public option. The administration has been willing to drop the public option from the bill for some time, even though that strategy wasn't fully unveiled until mid August. As Jane Hamsher said a few months back, Rahm doesn't go off the reservation, Rahm is the reservation. The president's Chief of Staff doesn't go on TV and say something that Obama doesn't approve of, and if he did so more than once, he'd be fired. These are all smart people, they know what they are doing.

Point Two: While though the administration hasn't said anything negative about the public option, their actions are making it harder to keep it in the final bill. Beyond overtly trying trying to get it out of the bill through repeated negotiations with Olympia Snowe and others who want to kill it, their rhetoric has also been damaging. Every time Obama doesn't draw a hard line on the public option the way he does with other aspects of the bill that he's deemed dealbreakers, it enables those who are fighting against it. And whether it's overtly negotiating on "triggers" or downplaying it's chances to pass in the press, both play into a media narrative that does nothing but help the public option's opponents.

Point Three: As I have said before, none of this means that Obama opposes the public option or wouldn't sign a good bill that includes one. It only means he doesn't consider it an essential part of the bill, and as a result it always seems to be the first element that get sacrificed in negotiations where the white house is a player.

The good news is that while the Administration's actions on this bill may be incredibly frustrating and disappointing, there is still plenty of hope for a good health care bill to emerge over the next several weeks. There has been growing momentum against the Baucus Bill, and possibly inspired by their counterparts in the house, progressive Senators like Sherrod Brown have been increasingly active in the debate:

Appearing on the Ed Show tonight, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was "wrong" when he appeared pessimistic about the chances of a public option making it through the Senate.

"We'll get enough votes," Brown said, citing bills that have passed through three House committees and the Senate HELP Committee with a public option.

Emanuel is "wrong, because of this: Not every Democrat right now would prefer the public option in the Senate ... but no Democrat in the end is going to vote against a procedural question to kill the health care bill," he said.

"The 60 Democrats will stay together on procedural questions and then, on final passage, some may vote against it because it's got a public option. But I don't see that," he said. Brown added that at least 50 Democrats in the Senate support the public option.

In addition to publicly smacking down Rahm Emanuel's pessimism, his point about procedural votes is dead on, and needs to be made clear to all the douche caucus members. You can vote against a bill all you want, but if you filibuster alongside the Republicans, we will cut you loose. If they can't even be counted on to not join a Republican filibuster then they shouldn't be counting on any Democratic party funding or the prestigious committee chairmanships that come with being in the majority.

When the White House realizes that this is their best chance of passing a bill, I suspect they'll start talking up the public option and change their tactics. But until that happens, there's no need to pretend they're doing anything special when it's people like Sherrod Brown who are working tirelessly to keep real health care reform alive.

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