The Note: Pulling Plugs — Public option on life support, as Obama tests loyalties on his left

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 17, 2009 8:11am

By RICK KLEIN A plug was pulled, it appears, after all. Health care reform wasn’t going to happen without at least one more fight on President Obama’s left. And this may just be the last such fight — without offering value judgments on what that might mean. (Speaking of partisan dances . . . Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, is among the contestants on the new season of “Dancing with the Stars,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on his Twitter feed. Hammer time?)  The battle to redefine the health care debate is now back inside the central argument of the entire fight: Whether and how to have a public insurance option. Once again, the perils of fighting for a bill that actually does not exist come into view for a White House that had hoped to be beyond this stage by now. Once again, Team Obama will burn a day (if not a week) tending to spurned allies — all without real indications that the center is comfortable with the chosen path. Once again, the coalitions around which governance is achieved are being tested. “The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama’s call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times. “The reward is that he could punch a hole in Republican arguments that he wants a ‘government takeover’ of health care and possibly win some Republican votes. The risk is that he could alienate liberal Democrats, whose support he will also need to pass a bill.”  “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that a new, government-run health-insurance program wasn't the ‘essential element’ of any overhaul plan,” per The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson and August Cole. “Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, said President Barack Obama wants ‘choice and competition’ in the insurance market.”  “This will be a delicate dance for the president, but dropping these provisions might be the only way to get the bill passed,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Monday. “Though House liberals argue killing off the public option will hurt attempts to cover the millions of uninsured.”  (For those who are disrupting town hall meetings in the hopes of killing health care reform, what’s better motivation than to see Drudge raise a white flag on the White House’s behalf?) (Then again, if the White House wanted the left to turn up the volume . . . ) This is not an obscure funding provision — or even a (comparatively simple) hot-button issue like end-of-life counseling. This, to many liberals who’ve been working the issue for decades, is the central piece of health care reform — even if President Obama hasn’t indicated that it’s sacred for him as a goal. Wait for it . . . “I don't think this bill is worth passing without a public option,” said former DNC chairman Howard Dean. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “Ultimately, if the president decides he’s going to go with a reform effort that doesn’t include a public option, what he will have done is spent a ton of political capital, riled up an incredibly angry right-wing base that’s been told this is a plot to kill Grandma, and he will have achieved something that doesn’t change health care very much and that doesn’t save us very much money and won’t do much for the American people. (Tell us the White House doesn’t miss having Tom Daschle’s voice on the inside right about now.) Roiling Netroots Nation — where they’re looking for a cause: “Many at the convention expressed their own frustration at being unable to effectively push for health-care reform because terms like public option and single payor are confusing. Their inability to do so raises questions about their own effectiveness,” Kris Maher and Jake Sherman write in The Wall Street Journal.  “Is the public option really dead? Probably,” Nate Silver writes at FiveThirtyEight.com. “Is a bill without a public option worth passing (if you're a Democrat)? From a near-term political standpoint, almost certainly yes.”  If the president abandons the public option: “The left will be disappointed, and its enthusiasm for the whole exercise may wane, though Obama probably won't lose many votes among liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Time’s Karen Tumulty writes. “At the same time, he probably won't pick up many from Republicans, who are looking less and less like they are in the mood to find a compromise. But it could help keep some shakier centrists aboard. And it would lower the intensity of the heat around the entire debate, by removing an issue that the White House has increasingly come to view as a distraction from the larger goals of its health reform.”  Can it happen with a public option “trigger”? “Some Democrats are likely to insist on including a trigger that would authorize establishing a public insurance option if the private market does not meet cost savings targets,” the Los Angeles Times’ Andrew Zajac reports. “They say, ' “We can hold down costs.” Well, let's see them do it,’ said a liberal-leaning health policy analyst who asked not to be identified because he advises congressional Democrats involved in the policy debate.”  As if this would solve everything anyway: “Even as the Obama team hinted that it could accept concessions that moderate Democrats are seeking, one of the leaders of that faction raised another hurdle for the administration, warning that Senate Finance Committee negotiators may not meet the president's Sept. 15 deadline for producing a bill,” Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post.  “Ditching the public option requirement might anger more liberal members of Obama's party, but it might allow him to sway enough Republicans to make his health care overhaul a reality. But would Republicans go along with public coops?” ABC’s John Cochran and Scott Mayerowitz report.  Plus, the administration still wants end-of-life counseling in the bill, though Secretary Sebelius suggested the concept will “probably be off the table” in the final bill. “I’m hoping that at the end of the day this will be part of the overall package, because it’s one of the most important conversations a family may ever have,” Sebelius told ABC’s Jake Tapper.  May need to recast this line: “At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. No magic here: “Local groups planning to protest Obama's health-care plan when he speaks today before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention said dropping the public option would be a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, they will show up in downtown Phoenix to criticize national health-care reform,” Ken Alltucker reports in The Arizona Republic.  As always, there’s the noise to contend with: “Obama's team is resisting advice to take a harsh line against the angriest of the protesters and toward Republican leaders who appear to be encouraging those citizens. In large part, that's because Obama doesn't feel comfortable adopting that posture,” Dan Balz writes in the Sunday Washington Post. “But he is reportedly frustrated that his message hasn't broken through. He is using his August road show to recalibrate — something he has often done in the past when struggling with his message.”  “Complicating the matter is that, for now, Obama has no single piece of legislation to neatly defend,” the AP’s Ben Feller writes.  More from the air wars: Health Care for America Now and the AFSCME on Monday are launching a new $650,000 television ad campaign targeting Republican leadership in the House and Senate, plus seven rank-and-file GOP members of Congress who “have voted or spoken out against health care reform.” Check out the new ad HERE.  The president remains out west Monday, with a 1 pm ET speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Phoenix.  An anniversary we’re looking for celebrations around: The stimulus package has now been law for six months. (President Obama, on Feb. 17: “And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results.”)  In that spirit: “Six months after President Obama launched a $787 billion plan to right the nation's economy, a majority of Americans think the avalanche of new federal aid has cost too much and done too little to end the recession,” USA Today’s Brad Heath reports. “A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 57% of adults say the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or making it worse. Even more — 60% — doubt that the stimulus plan will help the economy in the years ahead, and only 18% say it has done anything to help improve their personal situation.”  In that same spirit: “With only 15 percent of the cash spent, the stimulus has already saved more than 500,000 jobs, according to separate estimates by Moody’s Economy.com and HIS Global Insight,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt reports. “The fate of health care is inextricably linked to the economy. It is a test of the administration’s competence: if they can’t get a stimulus right, how do you expect them to overhaul 17 percent of the nation’s economy? It also forms the perception of the financial climate for any other measures.”  Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, makes her primary challenge against Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, official on Monday. She led off with a video to supporters released Sunday.  The announcement comes at 9 a.m. ET in La Marque, Texas, kicking off a 5-day, 19-stop tour dubbed “Texas Can Do Better.” “As Republicans, we can continue down the road of shrinking majorities. Or we can inspire, unite, and grow our party,” Hutchison plans to say, per excerpts provided to The Note. “Rebuild it from the bottom up, and reach out to Texans and say, ‘If you are for limited government, lower taxes and less spending, we want you in the Republican Party, we welcome you and want you to be active in our cause.’ That’s how we will win elections, keep the majority and be worthy to lead our great state. And that’s what we’re going to do if I’m heading the Republican ticket.” Can you tell football season is upon us? “Preseason is over. And the kickoff of Kay Bailey Hutchison's run for governor today is the road trip that could determine if she's around for the playoffs next spring,” Christy Hoppe writes in The Dallas Morning News. “Hutchison must set a tone, establish a theme, draw a distinction and explain to Texans in a compelling way why she should be governor, said a half-dozen strategists who have run primary campaigns in Texas.”  The David Boies-Ted Olson suit on gay marriage in California gets a hearing this week: “This week's hearing could determine who will be involved in pursuing this suit, and provide a roadmap on how it will progress. But the battle again points up Hollywood's eagerness to play a role in the marriage effort, even while getting mixed signals about exactly how to do that,” Variety’s Ted Johnson reports. “A trio of legal groups — Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, the ACLU Foundation and the National Center for Lesbian Rights — have long been pursuing same-sex marriage and gay rights cases in California and other states, and want to join in the suit.” 
The Kicker: “Igneous rock.” — Malia Obama, showing that she did her homework before her family’s trip to the Grand Canyon.  “High-five!” — Michelle Obama, proud mother.
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