Many liberals' long-held theory about the health care reform debate has, essentially, been confirmed in a new memoir: The White House cut a deal with interest groups early on to exclude a public insurance option. Thanks for telling everyone!
The unsurprising revelation comes in ex-Sen. Tom Daschle's new memoir about his role (as an unofficial liaison/lobbyist for the health industry) in the angry, year-long, all-consuming health care reform debate that finally ended when the House passed a bill in late March of this year. Unions, liberal activist PACs, think tanks, hippie bloggers, and Obama's own spun-off political group Organizing for America put an incredible amount of effort into securing a public insurance option. It didn't happen. When it finally was taken out of the bill, it just seemed like Joe Lieberman was being a dick again. After all, Barack Obama said over and over, until the end, that a public option was the best way to bend the health care cost curve! But Lieberman may have simply been playing bad cop, it would seem — this thing was tabled in July 2009.
In his book, Daschle reveals that after the Senate Finance Committee and the White House convinced hospitals to to accept $155 billion in payment reductions over ten years on July 8, the hospitals and Democrats operated under two "working assumptions." "One was that the Senate would aim for health coverage of at least 94 percent of Americans," Daschle writes. "The other was that it would contain no public health plan," which would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers.
Daschle has tried to walk this back in the past 24 hours, unconvincingly. It's in your book, guy.
Was Obama and Rahm Emanuel's strategy — based heavily on memories of Clinton's failed 1993 effort to pass a health care reform bill without cutting interest-group deals beforehand — really worth it for Democrats? Probably. They had to get the health care ball rolling at some point, and there's plenty of good stuff in there.
But couldn't they have managed the politics at least a little better? A lot of activists were drawn to the Obama campaign for his belief in empowering activists from the bottom-up, and delegating responsibilities. Obviously this was half-bullshit, but when he took office, activists did exactly what he wanted on health care: pushed for and organized behind a robust public option. A lot of time, energy and column space was exhausted on this. So the White House shouldn't be so thin-skinned about liberals taking shots at him after something like this. It was a pretty deceptive move! It was much more satisfying when people could just blame it on Joe Lieberman being dumb.