If you don’t run, you can’t win

Earlier tonight, the epilogue of the health care reform effort took place, as the House approved the amended reconciliation sidecar, 220-207. With that vote, the public option was finally buried.

That final act, though, wasn’t without drama, as the public option’s supporters attempted one last time to revive it by adding it to the sidecar as an amendment. To do that, they put heavy pressure on Colorado Senator Michael Bennet to introduce that amendment, delivering 35,000 signatures to his Denver office on Wednesday morning. Bennet had led the last public option revival by circulating a letter asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce it during reconciliation, so it was only logical that public option supporters turned to him at the last.

However, Bennet turned them down flat, saying they didn’t represent real voters*. And with that, the public option was, at long last, dead.

But will it stay dead?

A brief digression: in the movie Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams has been reigning supreme as a sprinter, until he faces off against Eric Liddell and loses. Infuriated with himself, Abrahams makes a vow to his fiancee:

HAROLD: If I can’t win, I won’t run!

SYBILL: If you don’t run, you can’t win.

That’s the situation that supporters of the public option face tonight. If you were to tune in to Firedoglake, for example, you’d think that, at least right now, they’ve chosen not to run, because they’ve lost their last race.

That’s their prerogative, but if the public option was worth pursuing this past week, at the last, then it’s worth pursuing until we get it enacted into law, and not merely as a proxy for political power.

What’s more, the fight to get the public option actually becomes easier in one crucial respect. As of this week, the biggest lift in the fight for health care reform is complete. Going forward, it’s no longer a question of whether the government is involved in health insurance; it’s now a question of how the government is involved. And the government is going to have to take a bigger role, because America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are already making trouble

The biggest, simplest fix is adding a public option – preferably Medicare – to the health insurance exchanges. That’s not very likely, but it’s as good a starting point as any for the return of the public option. The advantage of adding Medicare to the exchanges is that it’s easy to explain: “Medicare for All”. You’re not forcing anyone to enroll in Medicare, you’re merely giving them the option to do so.

Here’s the thing. The new bottom line for progressives on health care reform should be the enactment of a public health insurance option. Anything else is either standing pat or going backwards. That’s the new bottom line, starting tonight.

I’ve already had one person tell me that having folks push for a public option, going forward, would be foolhardy and heartless to them. I disagree – what would be heartless and foolish would be ginning folks up for a year – and then abandoning the fight. Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House at least had a plausible excuse for not pushing hard for a public option, up until this week, since they could claim that enacting a framework for national health insurance took precedence.

That excuse no longer holds water. Indeed, I agreed with Firedoglake and others in demanding an up or down vote on the public option in the Senate – worst case, it would’ve gotten the 20-24 votes that it was likely to get, best case it would’ve gotten attached.

Once more: if the public option was worth pursuing this past week, at the last, then it’s worth pursuing until we get it enacted into law. Nothing else will work as simply to fix the flaws in the health insurance exchanges. And the easiest way to make this happen is if we join FDL** and their allies to keep on running with the option, because that’s how we’ll all win.

*Seriously, what the heck? You can’t run a campaign designed to appeal to a certain constituency, raise $160,933 from that same community, and then insult them by saying they’re not “real voterswhen they ask you to live up to the spirit of your campaign, if not the letter. That’s screwed up. I understand that Harry Reid wanted a clean process during reconciliation, and Bennet’s trying to go along to get along, but you’ve got to give public option supporters a bone. In a crap economy, they gave your campaign $160K. That’s not nothing, y’know? And the manner in which the brush-off was executed was utterly graceless. The blogosphere that got dismissed so cavalierly is responsible for a good chunk of the success that Democrats have had since 2006, even if people don’t like to admit it. There’s a reason so many folks on the left work in new media, OK? More later.

**Yeah, people like to bash on FDL in general and Jane Hamsher in particular. I’m not going to exempt myself here, either – there have been times when I’ve shaken my head and gone “Good grief”. That said, the history of our progress is clear in saying that progress only happens when there’s both an inside game and an outside game working in concert to make this a more perfect union.

FDL is that outside game, whether we like it or not. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can accomplish as much without them as we have with them. Are they maddening? Yes. Do I wish they wouldn’t attack groups I’ve worked with, like SEIU or ProgressNow? Yes. That’s the thing with outside game groups, though: they exist to afflict the comfortable, and whether we like to admit or not, we’re part of the comfortable. Our allies run the White House! And Congress! You’re either working the inside game, or you’re working the outside game – there’s no such thing as a disinterested observer here, unless you’re a foreign citizen, perhaps. 

Again, I’ll have more on this later – but I didn’t want it to go without comment.


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