Ignoring Its Own Reporting, NYT Can’t Find Any Supporters of a Public Health Plan Option

"Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps?" — Brad DeLong et al

The New York Times informs us that President Obama is launching a major effort to generate support for health care reform, taking personal responsibility for promoting a central piece of his domestic agenda.

After months of insisting he would leave the details to Congress, President Obama has concluded that he must exert greater control over the health care debate and is preparing an intense push for legislation that will include speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers, senior White House officials say.

But according to Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, the battle may already be lost because of bipartisan opposition to, among other things, a public health insurance option:

If he embraces a tax on employee benefits, an idea he attacked when he was running for president, he may infuriate labor and the middle class. If he insists on a big-government plan in the image of Medicare, he could lose any hope of Republican support and ignite an insurance industry backlash. If he does not come up with credible ways to pay for his plan, which by some estimates could cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, moderate Democrats could balk.

So where is this ominous rejection of a public plan option coming from? Why it’s all the Republicans who just got thrashed in the last two elections and a few "moderate" Democrats who just don’t get it. Never mind that the Senate has already voted to allow health reform to be adopted with 51 votes.

Thus, Stolberg tracks down Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley to complain about how a public plan would doom any chance of reform. And of course Stolberg doesn’t get any push back from Grassley’s pal, Max Baucus, nor from Sen. Wyden, also quoted, who’s pushing a rival plan without a public option. Finally, to confirm the imminent death of the public plan, we read about Kent Conrad’s wish to get Republican support.

So nobody wants a public plan, right? Wrong.

Let’s see:

1. The New York Times just published a story about Senator Kennedy’s draft of a reform bill that prominently features a public plan in direct competition with private insurance.

2. The Congressional Progressive Caucus of some 80 members just issued a strong statement supporting a public plan option, while noting the "overwhelming majority" of them prefer an even stronger "single payer" version of the public plan concept.

3. Despite his opposition, Max Baucus has been forced repeatedly to say that a public plan is "still on the table," and at recent home-state meetings, his constituents pounded him for excluding single payer and selling out to the insurance industry.

4. Despite being unable to express any coherent position on health care reform, even Sen. Nelson (D-Neb.) had to deal with hometown anger over his earlier opposition; he later "clarified" his views to say he hasn’t ruled out a public plan.

5. As reported by the Times, Obama just strongly endorsed the need for a public plan to "give [consumers] a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest." Sounds like this is an essential feature that Obama will fight for.

6. Polls repeatedly show broad public support for a stonger government role in guaranteed health coverage and for a public health insurance option. This might have some connection to the fact that another "large government health program," Medicare, enjoys overwhelming public support.

7. The concept also has the support of major newspaper editorial boards and respected op-ed columnists. Part of the reason is that the current system is driving Americans into bankruptcy, as the Times knows. (h/t Dru)

8. And the NYT just reported that the private insurance industry has utterly failed to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses, which could be solved if their employees had open access to an affordable public plan.

9. And there are lots of other supporters — e.g., these, or these, or these, or these, or this guy, or . . . — the Times might have asked.

So whom does the Times seek out for quotes to express support for a public plan option or give us a more favorable view of its importance?

[crickets]

Update: Lucky for the New York Times, the LA Times Lisa Girlon has an equally one-sided article focused on the insurance industry’s point of view, though at least Ms. Girlon found one supporter of a public plan to quote.

More: Just to be clear, I think getting a decent public plan created as an alternative to private plans is an uphill climb. Robert Reich reported about the forces rallying behind the deceptive trigger proposal I described here. Folks will need to let their Congresspersons know this coming week they’re not willing to settle for that.