Sunday, September 13, 2009

What We're Not Getting: Redux

Updated Sept. 14

Yes, kids, you're privileged to be living in a time like this, when political giants roam the land, crafting legislation to make the country and the world a better place. Our leaders head vast departments of trained and capable uniformed and civil servants who explore the limits of knowledge and technology, defend the land, end racism, and reduce poverty.

Umm, sorry, I was dreaming about the 1960s again ...

Instead, what we're being treated to is another round of moral pygmies urinating on each other, and then doing whatever the pygmies with the most money decide. On Friday, two days after the President's speech on health care, the other shoe finally dropped on the chances of having a public option:

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday signaled their willingness to drop a government run public health insurance option from a final health-care bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in comments at separate news conferences, said they would support any provision that increases competition and accessibility for health insurance –whether or not it is the public option favored by most Democrats.

They spoke the day after President Barack Obama called the public option a preferred but non-essential element of overhauling the nation's ailing health-care system. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the president's speech the night before to a joint session of Congress "reiterated the public option is not the be-all, end-all in health-care reform."

Pelosi, who said as recently as Tuesday that a public option was essential for passing a health-care bill in the House, on Thursday used language on the issue similar to Obama's speech.

Democratic Leaders In Congress Soften On Public Option

What changed Pelosi's mind from two days earlier, when there was no way that a bill would pass without a public option? David Sirota thinks he knows:

This announcement came just hours before Steve Elmendorf, a registered UnitedHealth lobbyist and the head of UnitedHealth's lobbying firm Elmendorf Strategies, blasted this email invitation throughout Washington, D.C. I just happened to get my hands on a copy of the invitation from a source[.]

Elmendorf is a registered lobbyist for UnitedHealth, and his firm's website brags about its work for UnitedHealth on its website (Elmendorf was also a chief of staff for Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt).

The sequencing here is important: Pelosi makes her announcement and then just hours later, the fundraising invitation goes out. Coincidental? I'm guessing no - these things rarely ever are.

EXCLUSIVE: UnitedHealth Lobbyist Announces Pelosi Fundraiser As She Begins Backing Off Pub Option

Could it be that Pelosi sold us out for some big bucks from a health care provider? Maybe. Or maybe she thinks she sees writing on the wall and is just cashing in.

Nothing is as certain to happen soon as when Nancy Pelosi says it will never happen. Except maybe that she'll find a way to demonstrate her utter contempt for the public shortly thereafter.

Senator Reid added further confusion yesterday:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday endorsed the concept of non-profit insurance cooperatives that are at the heart of a highly anticipated health care bill being negotiated in the Finance Committee.

The Nevada Democrat reiterated his support for a so-called public option, which would create a government-sponsored entity to compete along private insurers, but said that a public option is “in the eye of the beholder.” Reid said that a public option is intended to create competition and drive prices down and keep insurance companies from conspiring to drive up prices.

Harry Reid: Public Option In Eye Of Beholder

Now, just for those who might be confused here, let me just clarify something - co-ops are not a public option. A public option is publicly financed. Co-ops would be groups of insurance companies, probably for-profit insurance companies. That means that the overhead will be several times the overhead of a publicly-financed insurance program.

To give Reid credit, he's never been a strong proponent of the public option. Now, he seems to be relishing the role of trying to put lipstick on the co-ops pig. Let's hope reports that he's in danger of losing his office next year are true. I, for one, am not lifting a finger to stop that from happening.

It's only been three months since I predicted, in what I can only describe as a particularly drained and pessimistic state, that all this would happen. I hate it when I'm right, because I'm never right about things going well.

UPDATE: Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler has reached a similar conclusion about Nancy Pelosi's change of heart:

[N]ot two weeks ago, Pelosi insisted that a health care bill without a strong public option would not pass the House. That statement was of a piece with similar statements she'd made for weeks, which were based on the progressives' insistence that health care reform's passage depended on the public option.

In other words, since meeting with Obama--who's been notably solicitous of Senate moderates, and notably dismissive of House progressives--her public language has softened notably.

Today, Pelosi's Communication's Director Brendan Daly says "The Speaker remains firmly committed to the public option and will continue to fight for its inclusion."

There's a lot more wiggle room in there than there is in saying 'no public option, no bill.'

Does Pelosi's Softening Rhetoric Spell Doom for the Public Option?

This is how progressive causes are undermined in Congress - by the slow, almost imperceptible changes in rhetoric that encourage the opposition that they will prevail. It just happened, folks, and the only question is whether progressives will stand for it this time.

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