It was dismaying to read this. But it’s important to understand the problem is external to the coalition, and not within it.
Misunderstanding among friends is to be expected when external forces are working very hard to undermine the solidarity of groups that otherwise have a common goal and should remain united against far more important concerns.
Despite President Obama’s unhelpful comments — see here, here, and here — about his and our support for the public option, his gratuitous and condescending comments today about the "left" — and when did we start defining "the left" as between 57 percent and 77 percent of the public? — make it clear that the White House’ strategy is to paint anyone who insists on a public option as a threat to the goal of passing a health care reform bill.
And it is only a small step from there to arguing that doing anything to undermine the likelihood of getting a bill passed is an argument in favor of a failed Democratic Congress and a failed Obama Presidency. Everyone agrees there is much at stake here.
The White House wants a bill, so they obviously prefer not to have potential allies making demands that limit their flexibility. But they also don’t need to be defining important segments of health reform supporters as enemies, as people who would naively push the Democratic Party and this Presidency into failure when having a choice of a public option has the support of over 70 percent of the public.
This White House has, through sheer tactical incompetence and disingenuousness, lost too much credibility on health reform among its own supporters. They did this to themselves. But it means that supporters of genuine health reform, whether they are powerful unions or lowly bloggers, will find themselves looking over their shoulders and blaming each other. The White House has created this, and we should stop blaming each other.
Whether this destructive condition is a deliberate, foolish White House strategy or just a result of Rahm’s bumbling and I’m-in-charge-of-everything insecurity, the rest of us need to stay focused on the prize, and not on each other.
SEIU and other unions have been strong, indispensable supporters of getting a robust public option established, because they understood, as some in the White House apparently do not, that a strong, viable alternative to private insurance would, as the President has argued, help keep private insurers honest.
The mere existence of a functioning PO represents the ultimate hammer of enforcement for industry reforms, an alternative if the insurers continue to screw the public, and a means to reduce costs and put downward pressure on premiums. If designed well, it could lay the foundation for a broader, gradual transformation. And the transformation would occur on a pace defined by the American people, based on their own voluntary decisions to choose the PO or something else. It is a powerful argument, for which the industry has no answer. The industry understands this well, even if the WaPo and other Beltway pundits do not.
Among the coalition of public option supporters, there has always been a tension between those who favored that transformation and those workers who might fear the transformation coming so quickly that it undermined hard-won employer-based insurance coverage before the replacement was ready. That natural tension was resolved by limiting and phasing in eligiblity to the exchange/public option, but allowing the Secretary of HHS to open the gates further by 2015. In a sense, a "trigger" is already in the various bills, and that IS the compromise.
When 2015 comes, we will face the question again. But we are not there, and there is no reason why labor and other coalition members should not remain strongly united now.
Marcy’s post also appears to equate undoing of the public option with a completely denial of health care. Where did this idea come from?
I’m a strong advocate of the public option, given the choices before us, but even I have never suggested such an unqualified equation. And there is no basis to suggest the major unions, let alone SEIU or its leadership, favor reform bill provisions that would result in a denial of care.
Stay together, folks; the enemy is out there, not among us.