Town Hall demonstrations successfully scared Congress into believing there is no national support for a "public option"

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 08/17/2009

I just returned from a weekend at the Netroots Nation 2009 convention in Pittsburgh, where I spoke with a good number of people about the state of the health insurance reform effort.  Sadly, as a result of those conversations, I am now able to explain why a "public option" is not going to happen in health insurance reform this time around.

The big issue is that the town hall meetings of the last few weeks have frightened Democratic members of Congress into no longer believing the previous polling that showed widespread  support for a public option.  Prior to the town halls, many Democratic members of Congress who supported a public option believed that the polling showed a hunger for it in their districts.  The anti-reform drama of the town halls has displaced polling in Congressional thinking, and so they no longer believe they are able to support a public option.

In terms of what the folks in Congress who attended Netroots Nation said, they all seemed to repeat this same general argument:  (1) they support a public option, but (2) unless they hear a vocal demand for it rising up from their districts, then a public option "is not possible."   Then, they urged Democratic activists to do whatever they could to turn out vocal demands for a public option at a local level.

From these conversations, I extrapolated the following: two months ago, Democrats in Congress did not  need to see or hear any support to vote for a public option because they believed the polling--the dispassionate statistics--was enough to show a widespread hunger for that kind of reform of the health insurance system.  After the town hall shouting and screaming, these same members of Congress no longer trust the statistics. 

So, not only is a public option dead, but the right-wing has learned how to undermine the authority of polling in a policy debate.  The right has also found a major weakness in how Congressional Democrats advance their agenda: unwilling to use dramatic rhetoric and political theatrics to win, they can easily be manipulated by them.

All this leads me to a pretty dire conclusion:  Without a massive effort by the Dems to re-brand the "public option" something entirely different (e.g., call it "PrivaCare" or something)  and then sell it like gangbusters to the public--Americans seeking health insurance reform will instead get a consumer-oriented "patient's bill of right," a scout's honor promise from insurance companies, and a preview of how the next policy debate will go down. 

Tomorrow's political forecast: More shouts of "Communist!" from the right, more Obama supporters throwing their hands up in frustration, more watered-down bills filled with polite requests for good behavior from America's robber barons. 

America elects a Democratic President, House and Senate, but a right-wing mob dictates the policy agenda.

Good times.


I am not one to update posts, but...since putting up this piece on the "public option," progressive groups and the White House have mobilized a massive effort to push a healthcare reform bill forward--including overtures from all corners that the "public option" is "not dead."  As a result, I've put a "?" at the end of the post title.  So, there you go. 

I cannot say that I am 100% optimistic, yet.  But the confidence that a "public option" is still possible from Howard Dean does seem to be relevant here.  If anyone is in the loop on how a health insurance reform bill will unfold, it would be Dean.

As for speculating inside the head of President Obama:  I will not do that.  If he wants a "public option," then at some point in the next week or so, he will need to say so.  Something like, "I will veto any bill that does not include a public option," is what needs to come from him.   Sebelius saying that a "public option" is very important is not enough.

So I plan to listen carefully over the next few days for the words from the White House.

© Jeffrey Feldman 2009, Frameshop

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