Obama’s Public Option Quandary

John Simmons, left, and David Williams argue during a rally Saturday Aug. 15, 2009 in Atlanta. Several thousand people gathered in downtown Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park to protest health care reform proposed by the president and Congressional Democrats.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

John Simmons, left, and David Williams argue during a rally Saturday Aug. 15, 2009 in Atlanta. Several thousand people gathered in downtown Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park to protest health care reform proposed by the president and Congressional Democrats. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Over the last few days we’ve seen stories that the White House is seriously considering eliminating the controversial public option segment of the health care reform plan. This news follows earlier reports that funding for the equally troublesome ‘end of life’ counseling programs would also be pulled from the package, presumably in conference committee once the two houses pass their own proposals.

Senator Conrad (D-ND), a key Democrat on the Finance Committee, has indicated that he would be supportive of the insurance cooperatives option which would replace public option.

But not everyone in the party seems to be on board. Howard Dean has threatened primary challenges against any Democrat who dares to oppose the public option (presumably a threat he did not clear with the White House).

This demonstrates the problem that the Obama White House faces on the issue of health care reform. Most of the current polling seems to suggest that the center and right of the political spectrum are, to say the least, reluctant to proceed with the public option proposal. But at the same time it is clear that for the left this is an core issue and they do not intend to compromise.

Obviously this is not an unusual situation, most of the prior White House’s have faced times when they need to balance between what the majority of the people wanted and what the hard line of their own party demanded. History has shown that it requires a very careful balancing act to resolve this conflict.

The Clinton White House was seen as going too far to appease the left of the party and ended up losing badly in1994. At the same time the Bush 41 White House was seen by the base as having gone too far to the center, resulting in the 1992 split that helped lead to his defeat. In many ways Bush 43 managed to accomplish both, angering the base and the center at the same time.

My guess is that for now the White House will drop the public option in order to get something passed and give them the ability to claim a victory. But that will not stop them from pursuing the more expansive programs in the future, especially if they are able to have reasonable success in the 2010 elections.

Personally I’d like to see them slow down quite a bit. This is a major expansion of government that will involve a double digit portion of the US economy. Why not simply work to get those without coverage helped first, then once we’ve gotten the kinks worked out of that program we can look to whether or not it needs to be expanded.

Regardless of what they do, the coming weeks and months will certainly provide for some entertaining politics.

Author: PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor