Failure Without STRONG Public Option Makes Sense

OpEdNews — Thursday, September 10, 2009

By Dean Powers

Ask any Democratic strategist if Democrats run a risk if they do not pass some sort of health care reform this year.

Invariably, the strategist will say, "Yes. Look at what happened to the Democrats in 1994, when they failed to pass health care reform: the pendulum swung back in favor of the Republicans and we had to wait 20 years to have another shot at reform."

This is because most Democrats do not have the boldness to envision another scenario: 1) voting down health care reform that falls short of including a strong, national public plan option (and being the ones who voted it down), 2) blaming it on the Republicans and moderate Democrats who watered it down and 3) cleaning house in the 2010 elections using this issue as a battering ram at the polls.

Never before has an issue commanded such broad political support among voters. Genuine conservatives support the public plan option and there is unanimous disgust with the insurance industries.

The issue has such broad appeal that door-to-door community organizations like New Jersey Citizen Action, Working America offices as far apart as New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota and Pennsylvania and the Maine People's Alliance have used it for years to raise money and recruit new members.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) includes over 3,000 organizations, all working on health care reform around the country. HCAN raises enough money on this issue that it can give funding to many of the organizations in its coalition. That is a lot of money.

How could Democrats possibly give up an issue that raises them so much money and wins them so many supporters on a whimper solution that does not include a strong, national public plan? (At this point, the even the public plan is not enough. If the public plan passes with the Blue Dog amendments, then it will be virtually impotent to offer affordability from its inception.)

If a whimper health care bill passes, here is what will happen: there fight that we are watching set records for inciting public interest in Congress during an off-election year will be gone. The issue will die as an incentive to fund-raise and recruit new members for organizations that combat the special interests and ensure that Congress is controlled by progressives.

As far as voters go, Democrats will feel burned, Independents will feel like the Democrats got their chance and now it is time for the Republicans again and Republicans will continue to hate Democrats and call the reform more Big Government take-over.

In fact, the odds are higher that the Democrats will lose seats in 2010 if they do pass a wimpy health care reform bill.

So Democrats cannot afford to pass a bill without a strong, national public plan option. And here's another reason why: the special interests have spent at record levels this year to lobby Congress. We are making them bleed cash.

A CNN report found that the health insurance industry spent $280 million on lobbying in the first half of 2009. They may match that level in the second half of 2009. Imagine we fight this fight again next year and the year after.

Meanwhile the recipients of cash and donations from the insurance industry (Democrats and Republicans) become the targets of a campaign to highlight why Democrats couldn't pass health care reform in 2009. We point to the recipients of health care industry money as examples of why we didn't go FAR ENOUGH last November.

All of the Blue Dogs and several Democratic Senators, including Ron Wyden (OR), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.)--who are up for re-election in 2010 and thorns in the side of progressive Democrats--become the targets of primary campaign battles.

Wyden is a sponsor of the "bi-partisan" health care bill being drafted in the Senate Finance Committee and an advocate for delaying health care reform. The SFC bill doesn't include a public plan option and we can thank Wyden for not being a leader here.

Lincoln, on the other hand, has taken piles of cash from the health care industry and she recently signaled her opposition to the public plan because it would be too expensive. All of the Republicans remain committed to opposing health care reform, so they remain targets in the general election in 2010.

The message: "These are the Democrats who stood in our way. We need to clean them out of office, but we also need to clean out all of the Republicans from office because not a single Republican supported meaningful health care reform."

When Democrats muster up the guts to start ostracizing members of their own party who vote and act like Republicans (as Rep. Pete Stark so bravely did, recently), public support for the Democratic Party will climb because these actions will preserve the purity of the Democratic ideals for which the nation showed overwhelming support last November.

Moreover, when Democrats start ostracizing their own members it shows that they are not making party-based judgments about issues like health care, they are making substantive judgments and complex judgments that remain married to core ideals not a Party agenda.

Should the Democrats decide to keep condoning traitors in their own party, then voters will put them out of office in no time.

Democrats will benefit more by killing a weak health care bill in 2009 than they will by passing one.

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