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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Letter to the White House: it's time to shift the burden

With a few minor revisions from what was actually sent:

Dear President Obama:

I fully understand the logic of how the healthcare legislation in theory does not require the "public option," but, pardon me, dammit, it is long past time to stop negotiating with yourselves and make the opponents defend themselves. Here is the question that anyone who has pondered this issue wants to see answered: since their objection is an outright admission that the competition of a public option would create lower cost for Americans, how in the world can they justify favoring the highest possible profits (yes, and CEO salaries) and asking the American people to pay more in order to fund those extra profits and salaries?

When they understand it as a choice and not a “government takeover,” almost 80% of Americans have said (Survey USA) they would like to have that choice. If they were made to understand further that the public plan is intended mainly for Americans who cannot get insurance through their employer, and that in order to allow private insurers to compete for that business the plan must rely solely on its premium revenue and cannot draw upon general revenues, that support would become even stronger. How can people claim to be Democrats and deny the overwhelming majority of Americans what they want when they understand the facts?

These are the points that need to be made. The gauntlet must be laid down for the opponents to convince the American people that the public option is not in their best interests. It's time for the White House hand-wringing and wussiness to end. The circular "argument" by some legislators that their opposition is based on the fact that "it doesn't have enough votes," a position that in its lack of substance is really a gross insult to the American people, is no longer sufficient. It is time for that debate. Let the opponents make the highly speculative argument that the public option will drive private insurers out and work to our disadvantage "in the long run." If the opponents cannot convince the majority of the American people that they should not have that right to choose between plans, then we will have a public option.

The recent loss of support comes from not looking strong. If you want to look strong, you have to be strong. Demanding answers to that challenge – even from some of your own party members who will be angry but in the end with some face-saving device will find a way to side with the American people – is strong. Letting them off the hook again is not.

I have suggested possible tactical moves, such as separating the public option for focused debate in its own bill -- and effectively forcing all Democrats and a couple of moderate Republicans to vote in favor of the remaining (and extremely important) insurance reforms and financial assistance needed to achieve universality -- or adding a provision that would allow any state to opt out of allowing its residents to be offered the Federal public option. (As if any of them after local debates would do that!) But the common thread in those moves is this: the opponents of the public option must be forced to defend taking the side of insurance companies over the American people. So far, Obama and his people, including Mr. Tough Guy Rahm Emanuel, have wimped out and let the Blue Dogs avoid that challenge. One way or another, we must demand it. If they do not, the damage to the Administration will be severe.


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