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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Tame Left Critique Bodes Well for Health Reform Deal

When I first heard the outlines of the “Team of Ten” deal, well-limned in Ed’s post below, I assumed there would be a fierce storm of opposition from the most pro-public option Senators and among progressive bloggers and organizations. Thus far, however, the critique has been surprisingly mild, with a couple of exceptions.
One of the exceptions would be Steve’s post “One Lame-Ass Effort” at The Left Coaster, where he disses the deal, “…voters see no benefit from any of it until after the 2010 midterms, which is a recipe for a Democratic drubbing next year.” Mother Jones Senior Editor James Ridgeway concurrs, adding at Alternet that “…any genuine, government run public option, which so many saw as the key to true health care reform, is nothing more than a corpse being dragged through the streets.”
Other progressive bloggers have been less critical. Also at Alternet, Adele Stan sees merit in the latest Senate compromise, explaining:

…The formula for public options considered by senators were so watered down as to be virtually meaningless. In its place, reports say, the bill will offer two features that could lead to a more progressive form of health-care reform in the long run:
an opening of Medicare to people between the ages of 55 – 64
a federal health-insurance exchange based on the system enjoyed by federal employees and the senators themselves

Stan adds, that “by experimenting with the expansion of Medicare to include a younger population, we have something of a laboratory for a future single-payer system.”
At Open Left, Mike Lux concedes “The loss of a public option is a bitter pill to swallow,” but adds “there is still plenty of good in this package.” His Open Left colleague, Chris Bowers seems even more optimistic about the deal and makes an important point about the campaign for the public option doing considerable good:

…Here are the important concessions that have been won since July in return for dumping the Medicare +5% option (that public option would have been available to everyone in the exchanges, and would have covered 10 million, but didn’t even have the votes to pass the House):
4 million more people covered by Medicaid
1-2 million covered by a Medicare buy-in
An increase in the percentage of money received by health insurance premiums that must be spent on health care from 85% to 90%
And there is a trigger too, but so friggin’ what. That was never meaningful.
Now, even a Medicare +5% public option, available to everyone in the exchange, was a major concession from Medicare for all. Still, there is no way we would have gotten even the three meaningful concessions listed above without the broader campaign for the public option.

The most liberal Senators are also sounding supportive, if somewhat grudgingly. At Firedoglake, for example, Blue Texan posts Rachel Maddow’s interview of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, in which the sunny socialist says “It’s not fair to say they are abandoning the public option” and offers some more than tepid words of support, while acknowledging that there are elements of significant capitulation to corporate interests in the deal.
Jay Rockefeller seems enthusiastic enough about the deal, and there is some wiggle room in this statement by Senator Russ Feingold, one of the Team of Ten:

While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach. We need to have some competition for the insurance industry to keep rates down and save taxpayer dollars. I will base my vote on the bill on the entirety of what is in the bill, and whether I think the bill is good for Wisconsin.

Not surprisingly, the greatest threat to this latest deal comes from the right — Senators Lieberman and Nelson. But if Nelson will settle for status quo language regarding abortion funding, Lieberman’s opposition may not mean much, since there is now a good chance that Olympia Snowe and possibly Susan Collins will join in supporting the deal.
It is discouraging that the will of a majority of both houses of congress, along with the preferences of a majority of Americans who support a robust public option can be undercut so sharply by a small handfull of Senators. It’s all about face-saving now, giving these senators just enough to enable them to claim a personal victory of sorts to impress their constituents. Looking forward, it will be a great day when Democrats take action to eliminate the filibuster altogether, as Alan Abramowitz has urged. With that accomplished, Democrats will be able to provide the strong leadership America deserves.

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