In the delicate dance that defines Washington politics, it's nearly impossible for those of us outside the Beltway to know with any certainty where the Obama administration really stands on it's own proposed healthinsurance reform plans. The President has devoted the last several weeks to pushing the public option proposal, abandoning the promise of single-payer health insurance coverage in the first round of debates. Now it appears the White House is poised to dump the public option in favor of some kind of compromised co-ops. Or is it?
During his campaign, Obama had nothing but praise for single-payer systems which have decades of demonstrated success in virtually all Western societies. Early in the game, however, the right-wing opposition to single-payer plans seemed to have worked, causing the President to reframe his position and push for a weaker public option proposal, which would at least guarantee some government-assisted coverage to Americans who have no other avenue to obtain coverage.
Now the White House and Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have offered up a confusing weekend full of contradictions and back peddling about the true Obama administration position on the public option. On CNN's "State of the Union" showSunday, Sebelius told host John King that the public option is not "the essential element" of the plan, instead emphasizing choice and competition in the insurance marketplace.
In that same vein, at a Colorado town hall on Saturday, Obama reinforced this reversal of his former position, stating that "All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform, this is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."
Then something odd happened in the following 24 hours. Or not so odd if you believe these administration machinations are part of somelarger plan to get what they wanted in the first place. On Tuesday, Sebelius did a reversal of her reversal, stating that "nothing has changed" about the White House's support for a government-financed health insurance plan. "All I can tell you is that Sunday must have been a very slow news day, because here's the bottom line. Absolutely nothing has changed," she said. "We continue to support the public option that will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice, and keep private insurers honest."
And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs underscored this possible retraction of the potential reversal in a meeting with reporters Tuesday morning, saying news stories suggesting the administration was ready to abandon the public option were overblown. Gibbs said there was no intention to indicate a change in policy. "If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing weeks ago."
On Sunday the public option is not essential and is just a sliver; by Tuesday it is again the cornerstone of the President's proposal. So is it or isn't it? Not even the hardened DC pundits know for sure.
It is confounding. Take the pulse of America and the vast majority want health care reform. It's one of the central reasons Obama was elected. So why the rapid-fire contradictions? Is the administration backing down due to a perceived lack of public support-- or worse -- falling poll numbers? Or are they even backing down at all?
Have they really trashed the public option, the remaining remnant of government-assisted health care? Or has their long-term plan been to simply appear to step away from this proposal, knowing this move would recharge the voters who brought Obama to the Oval Office, causing them to redouble their vocal outrage with cries of protest so loud and effective they would drown out the droning "Deathers'" ridiculous warnings of the demise of private insurance companies, socialized medicine, and hyped hysteria over government-mandated euthanasia?
Did they throw the fight, or just throw the fight back to the people?
With Congress in recess it's equally impossible to know how these maneuverings are affecting the opinion and mind set of the legislators who will ultimately design the new landscape of health care in America. Has the renewed energy of Obama's base successfully overcome the right-wing propaganda machine, which is so adept at mobilizing their brainwashed masses into believing Obama is a socialist who hates white people and wants to kill their grandparents? Not to mention being born in Kenya.
We won't know the reaction from Capitol Hill until Congress reconvenes after Labor Day. We're left with two more weeks of confusion and consternation, exhausted from the debate and our leadership, and left with an uneasy sense of either being manipulated or ignored.
If these mixed messages are part of a larger rope-a-dope strategy to obtain some kind of meaningful healthinsurance reform that actually guarantees every American medical coverage regardless of economic status or preexisting condition, then the head-spinning contradictions and mind-games are worth it. If they are a sign of a disorganized White House that cannot stay on message due to a misplaced attempt at an unattainable bipartisan compromise -- with no true regard for or understanding of the wants and needs of the citizens -- then that is very bad news indeed.
Either way, it's a sad commentary on the current state of Washington politics.