He said in an interview with the Washington Post that he did not campaign on the public option:
“Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill,” Obama said. “Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill.”
In listing those priorities, he cited the 30 million uninsured Americans projected to receive coverage, estimated savings of more than $1 trillion over the next two decades, a “patients’ bill of rights on steroids,” and tax breaks to help small businesses pay for employee coverage.
Those elements are in the House and Senate versions of the legislation; their competing proposals will have to be reconciled in conference committee next year. The House bill includes a government-run insurance plan favored by progressive Democrats; the Senate version does not. “I didn’t campaign on the public option,” Obama said in the interview.
In a very narrow sense, technically speaking, this may be true, but it’s also weasel language, says Salon‘s Alex Koppelman:
It’s unmistakably true that during the campaign his plan for reform included a public option.A summary of Obama’s proposal — still up on BarackObama.com — says it “Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.” And a document his campaign put together, “Barack Obama’s Plan for a Healthy America,” says:
The Obama plan both builds upon and improves our current insurance system, upon which most Americans continue to rely, and leaves Medicare intact for older and disabled Americans. The Obama plan also addresses the large gaps in coverage that leave 45 million Americans uninsured. Specifically, the Obama plan will: (1) establish a new public insurance program available to Americans who neither qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP nor have access to insurance through their employers, as well as to small businesses that want to offer insurance to their employees
On the other hand, the words “campaign on” have a fairly specific meaning — they imply making some issue or message a particular focus of your campaign, as in, “In 2004, President Bush campaigned on terrorism.” And while it was indeed a pretty weaselly thing for him to say, Obama’s comment was, on that score, accurate.
Yes, the public option was included in his plan for healthcare reform, but he never really ran on it and barely even pushed it during 2008. As NBC’s Chuck Todd noted in September, Obama “never uttered the words ‘public option’ or ‘public plan’ in his big campaign speeches on health care.”
Digby points out that even though the public option was not at the center of Obama’s campaign, he did unequivocally support it during his run for the White House. That raises the issue of public expectations, and Obama really did not address that point in his WaPo interview:
I don’t think it’s actually necessary or possible for Presidents to stick to the letter of their campaign promises. Things change, art of the possible etc.
And since he never pushed very hard for it it’s been clear for some time that he and the rest of the leadership decided that it would be something they could safely bargain away because the liberals who wanted it would hold their noses and vote for the plan anyway. But that doesn’t mean that the liberals were wrong to assume he supported it. It definitely was in his campaign health care plan.
Ezra Klein thinks that the health care reform bill as it looks now (there are still two different versions, after all) matches up pretty closely with the president’s campaign platform:
Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy enough to revisit the plan (pdf) Obama campaigned on in light of the plan that seems likely to pass. And there are, to be sure, some differences. The public option did not survive the Senate. The individual mandate, which Obama campaigned against, was added after key members of Congress and the administration realized that the plan wouldn’t function in its absence. Drug reimportation was defeated, and a vague effort to have government pick up some catastrophic costs was never really mentioned.
But the basic structure of the proposal is remarkably similar. …
But whether you love the Senate bill or loathe it, whether you’re impressed by Obama’s effort or disappointed, it is very hard to argue that the bill Congress looks likely to pass is fundamentally different from the approach Obama initially advocated. … You can debate whether Obama should have lashed himself to such an incremental and status-quo oriented approach, but you cannot argue that he kept it a secret.
Darren Hutchinson dissents (appropriately):
Most shockingly, Obama denies that the public option was ever a part of his presidential campaign — despite the fact that his campaign literature proudly supports a public plan option:
Obama said the public option “has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right.” But, he added, “I didn’t campaign on the public option.”
Obama, however, definitely supported the public option during his campaign, but the Senate bill does not create it. Obama also dropped drug reimportation as a goal to win pharmaceutical company support. And Obama campaigned against an insurance mandate, but he now supports it as part of the Senate and House bills.
My own views align most closely with those of Digby and Koppelman. I don’t agree with Darren that Obama’s claims are “false,” or that he actually “denie[d] that the public option was ever a part of his presidential campaign.” I don’t think that’s accurately conveying what he said. Obama may have parsed his words as carefully as Katz’s Deli slices its pastrami sandwiches, but what he said was not untrue.
On this final point, however, I agree unreservedly — and regardless of how closely Obama’s remarks in the WaPo interview approximate the facts of his campaign platform, I do believe that herein lies the rub:
I do not have a problem with the idea of compromise. Political compromises happen all the time — and for good reason. I do have a problem, however, with dishonesty. Claiming that a compromise has not happened when it actually has is dishonest. If the White House expects liberals to accept its political compromises, it cannot pretend that the compromises have not actually occurred.