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Vigilance: The Public Option Could Easily Unravel Yet

By       Message Mark Karlin     Permalink
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opednews.com Headlined to H2 10/28/09

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Reprinted from Buzzflash

After generally experiencing a post-Obama inauguration period of disappointment, progressives mobilized themselves, heightened their intensity of feeling, hit the streets, and bombarded Congress to ensure a public option -- and the activism paid off: Harry "Who Took My Backbone?" Reid actually included a government option with a state opt-out in his consolidated version of a Senate bill.

That was an enormous victory for progressives, after the corporate mainstream media had already buried the public option some time ago -- and a testament to the power of strategic activism.

With the likely passage of what Nancy Pelosi has smartly renamed "the consumer option" in the House -- although in what form, "robust" or light, remains to be played out -- it is all and all a triumphant moment for a progressive movement that was struggling to regain its footing.

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However, this is no time for anything but momentary celebration. Many, many threats remain to the "consumer option" between here and the President's desk.

The threats fall into two categories: 1) what kind of public option? and 2) will it survive through the negotiations and votes ahead?

Let's take point one first, which is intertwined with two.

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One can assume that since Reid chose a "consumer option" with a state-opt out, that would be the maximum configuration in a Senate-House reconciliation committee, even if a "robust" option would pass the House, where the vote on the more vigorous "consumer option" is reported to be close.

Furthermore, there have been rumors that a compromise position would be to have a private insurance company paradoxically administer the government option under contract. This is not good, to say the least.

There is also the issue which flies in the face of Republicans and Blue Dogs who say they want to save money, but don't want a "consumer option" at Medicare rates. Instead, they would have the "consumer (public) option" negotiate rates, just like Blue Cross, which would leave the government option less competitive and more expensive.

And there are all sorts of restrictions and obstacles the health insurance industry has prepared to pile on in negotations to hinder the competitiveness of the government "consumer" option and to make it a posion pill that will fail.

So, these are some of the hazards ahead -- and just a few -- for the "consumer option," as it wends its way through Senate and House floor votes and then goes into reconciliation.

Now point 2: Yes, Reid was pressured by the strength of progressive activism and public polling to include a "consumer option" in his bill, but it's not clear that the White House really wants it (or whether they want it and just want Congress to take the heat from the insurance companies). More importantly, with Joe "I Always Tell a Lie" Lieberman now committed to filibustering a vote on healthcare reform and several bought and sold conservative Democratic Senators, it's not looking good for 60 votes right now. There has been talk of making the "consumer option" a separate bill and arguing it only needs 50 votes -- which it would likely get -- because of obscure voting rules relating to what are considered supplemental budget bills. But so far, Reid isn't indicating that he plans to go that route, which would virtually ensure passage of the government option.

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So is Reid having his cake and eating it too: letting progressives think that they've won by putting in his bill a government option, but knowing that it doesn't have the votes to pass if he uses the 60 vote threshold? BuzzFlash doesn't know, but the numbers say that is exactly what he is doing unless he rules the government option only requires 50 votes.

What does this mean for progressives and the majority of Americans who support a government option because it passes the common sense test and makes healthcare reform less costly?

It means keep up the intensity of activity; it means keep conducting sit-ins in insurance offices; it means keep being heard in Congress; it means keep protesting; it means take back the government from profiteering corporations who add nothing to our health care system but siphoning off profits. Health insurance companies deplete America's healthcare system instead of strengthening it.

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Mark Karlin is founder, editor and publisher of BuzzFlash.com, a website providing headlines, news and commentary to over five million people a month. He is a gun control activist with a focus on Illinois.

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