The Public Option: What Ever Happened To "Yes, We Can?"
A common refrain insists that we never had the votes for a public option, and therefore it was a waste of time and energy to try. Despite, of course, the apparently irrelevant fact that the public option consistently polls so well, while the current plan, well, doesn't.
The same refrain continues, as the House and Senate try to work out their differences: there aren't the votes in the Senate, so there's no point in trying to revive the public option through reconciliation. Of course, we know for a fact that there aren't the votes in the House for the unpopular Senate plan, so we can argue in circles, over this, forever. Or we can try to find out if some votes might be moved, in the Senate. Because we don't have a head count. We don't have Senators forced to declare themselves, on the record. We don't have Senators forced to explain to their constituents why they voted down something their constituents badly wanted. We don't have Senators forced to decide whether they want to be on the wrong side of history. Maybe we should force them.
MR. GREGORY: I want to get to that in just a minute. Mary Landrieu, conservative Democrat from Louisiana, said it's on life support, health care. Is it on life support?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I, I hope for the, for the sake of the American people and the tens of millions of people out there who are, who are disadvantaged in their relationship with their insurance companies today or who have no insurance, I hope that's not the case. Again, this is a situation where we ought to put the economic interests of everyday Americans ahead of the politics of the moment. And that's what the president's saying. These are extraordinary times. Middle-class families and people who want to be middle class are struggling all over this country. Let's, let's, let's provide some help.
MR. GREGORY: Is the president clear-eyed, though, that there's still a chance this is not going to happen?
MR. AXELROD: The president is determined that we deal with the problems in front of us, and health care is one of those problems.
And Sargent highlights the two hopes and the determined, then lowers the boom:
Unlike many others, this blog has been reluctant to shoot spitballs at the White House for failing to show leadership on health care, because it’s largely on Congressional leaders to get it done. But this is just lame.
Axelrod’s quotes sound almost as if Obama is a passive observer of this process, rather than the leader of the Democratic Party, one who could use his moral authority to urge Congressional Dems to take specific action — i.e., for the House to pass the Senate bill with a reconciliation fix.
The president has taken a hands-off approach, through much of the process. Last summer, when some were saying they wanted to see him fighting for the public option, making the effort to use his unique political skills to sell it, others were saying we didn't know what was taking place behind the scenes. Whatever was or wasn't taking place, we do know where we are. We do know that the polls show the public option is more popular than the proposed plans. We do know that a public option can be passed through reconciliation. We do know that the House will not pass the Senate bill, and that the Senate may or may not have the votes to pass a bill fixed to satisfy the House. We do know that Democratic Congressional leaders continue to try to work out their differences, despite the negativity coming from some quarters. We do know that the Republicans have no goal in this entire process other than to kill the process. All that is in the open.
Congressional Democrats need to worry about their careers. Their majorities, and many of their jobs, are in imminent danger. Passing a health care bill that is popular and that would help people would help Democrats to retain their majorities and their careers. It's not complicated. It would be nice if the White House was out in public, making the case for the public option the president used to talk about, but no longer does. We saw, once again, last week, how dramatically this president can change the national dialogue. When he smacks down Republicans, they and everyone else know the Republicans have been smacked down. Imagine if he were using that talent to sell the public option.
Again: It’s on Congressional Dems to figure out how to get this done. But it’s fair to ask for some specificity from the White House on how to move forward. And Dems need to hear the White House say Obama will intervene and do what it takes to prevent health care reform from dying, not that White House advisers merely hope it won’t.
As Paul Krugman wrote, on Saturday:
Look, Obama is a terrific speaker and a very smart guy. He really showed up the Republicans in the now-famous give-and-take. But we knew that. What’s now in question isn’t his ability to talk, it’s his ability to lead.
It's easy to say we don't have the votes, when we've never really made the effort to find out. In public. On the record. It's easy to say we can't get something done when we don't even try to get it done. Maybe it's time to be rid of excuses. Was Yes, we can! but a campaign slogan for an election? Or was it an expression of a determination to get things done?