By Jon Walker
After a full year of debate and dozens of excuses, the Democratic leadership now stands naked in their opposition to the public option. President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid all claimed they that wanted one. They are the three most powerful people in Washington and have huge margins in both chambers. It is ridiculous to believe that the public option could not have become law if the leadership really wanted it. Yet, for months, people were lied to so the Democratic leadership could maintain the insane myth that the public option’s death was not their fault, but the fault of some insurmountable obstacle. What this mythic “insurmountable obstacle” actually was has shifted so many times it is hard to keep track.
First there was the excuse that health care reform must be bipartisan, and that you simply can’t do something so big without broad bipartisan support. We were told the public option must go to get a number Republican votes. That proves clearly wrong.
When hope of broad bipartisanship faded, we were told that the public option must go because Olympia Snowe did not want it–and Snowe was the linchpin to everything. Now that reform has passed without Snowe, this, too is revealed to be a myth.
The “government takeover of health care” attack
We were told the public option would result in Republicans attacking the bill as a “government takeover of health care,” yet when the public option was dropped, the socialist nightmare, scaremongering attacks did not dissipate. If anything, they increased.
Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and 60 votes
After Snowe refused to play along, we were told that the public option had over 50 votes in the Senate, but it was that damn 60-votes-for-cloture hurdle it could not overcome, so we need to sacrifice it for Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. Of course, not only was no effort made to strongarm these two into standing with their caucus on what was just a procedural vote, but Obama did not even call Lieberman to politely ask him to please support the public option or early Medicare buy-in.
You can’t use Reconciliation
When some people said we should then use reconciliation for the whole bill, the idea was laughed at. We were told the Byrd rule would gut the most important parts of the bill, like the very important new insurance regulations. Of course, now we are using reconciliation and the new insurance regulations in the reconciliation bill were not removed by the Byrd rule.
We no longer have 50 votes in the Senate
Once they decided to use the reconciliation sidecar, we were told, as if by magic, there were no longer 50 votes in the Senate for the public option. The Senate leadership blamed the House, saying it was now the House that no longer had the votes for a public option (even though they passed it before).
We no longer have the votes in the House.
It is hard to know for a fact because right after the Senate blamed the House, the House leadership turned around and blamed the Senate. Steny Hoyer said they did have the votes and claimed it was the Senate’s fault. He claimed Obama did not ask to put a public option in the reconciliation bill because the Senate did not have the votes.
Reconciliation must pass unchanged so it does not go back to the House
When the reconciliation bill was brought to the Senate floor, where any Democrat could have offered a public option amendment to force an up-or-down vote on the public option, a new excuse was found to stop that. We were told the Senate must pass the reconciliation bill unchanged, so it could go straight to the President’s desk without another vote in the House. We were told leadership would whip against any amendments to make health care reform slightly better. This myth, too, withered in the face of reality.
Changing reconciliation will “KILL THE BILL!”
Because of a successful Republican Byrd rule point of order, the reconciliation bill would be force to go back to the House for another vote anyway. At this point, the excuse for not offering a public option amendment got weird. Senators like Michael Bennet (D-CO) took to saying saying it would “kill the bill,” and tried to falsely equate “the bill”–the reconciliation fix, which is mainly a package of minor tax changes that do not take effect for years–with the comprehensive health insurance reform measure already signed into law.
I’m sure there were some other excuses that I have forgotten to mention. The important thing is that, in the end, they did use reconciliation. They also could have added the public option to a reconciliation bill that could have passed with a simple majority, and had it not endanger the bulk of the health care reform provision. In the end, all their excuses fade away or became weird nonsense about some possible later promise and not wanting to risk anything. It is foolish to believe that a President, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House with historically large majorities couldn’t get a public option–which roughly 65% of the country supported–if they really wanted one. Clearly, if they all really wanted to include a public option, they could have done it using reconciliation. To accept their many different excuses of powerlessness requires one to completely suspend reality.
Occam’s razor teaches us the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Here, the simplest explanation is that, months ago, Obama promised to kill the public option as part of a secret deal with the for-profit hospital lobby, and that for months he lied to the American people about supporting the public option while working behind the scenes to stop it.
So, when exactly does that changing the way Washington works thing start again?