This is what Obama wanted, and it needs to fail

For what it’s worth, I think Glenn Greenwald and Russ Feingold are probably right when they say that we shouldn’t lay all the blame for what happened with regard to healthcare reform at the feet of Joe Lieberman. Much of the blame, as Glenn points out in his recent article on Salon, belongs with Obama. Here’s a clip:

Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferious email backlash — easily — was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama’s occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House — hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama’s campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn’t pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party — rather than the GOP — will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.

As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this — the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional “centrists.” Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start — the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry. And kudos to Russ Feingold for saying so:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.

“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”

And, speaking of the extremely watered-down, pro-corporate healthcare legislation now making its way through the houses of Congress, DNC chairman Howard Dean came out today to say that he hopes that it fails, at least in its current form. (As I understand it, he went to the President personally, and, when it became clear that he wasn’t being heard, he decided to go to the press.) Here’s a clip:

Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean argued Wednesday that the health care overhaul bill taking shape in the Senate further empowers private insurers at the expense of consumer choice.

“You will be forced to buy insurance. If you don’t, you’ll pay a fine,” said Dean, a physician. “It’s an insurance company bailout.” Interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he said the bill has some good provisions, “but there has to be a line beyond which you think the bill is bad for the country.”

“This is an insurance company’s dream,” the former Democratic presidential candidate said. “This is the Washington scramble, and it’s a shame”…

The good news is, it may not be too late. Progressive Democrats could still step up and fight for a public option. (If Lieberman can play hardball, why can’t we?) And, I know it’s unlikely, but there’s also the possibility that Obama could have an epiphany and start to show some leadership.

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  1. Jules
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Either fix it or kill this damn bill. Fuckers.

  2. Jim
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Although defeat of the bill would be a political disaster for Obama and the Democrats, I’m now persuaded that the progressives in the House and Senate should play hardball on the public option (or Medicare buy-in) and risk defeat of the bill. Obama has been taking liberal support for granted and neglecting his progressive promises on many issues, most notably in the area of civil liberties, and a defeat would show Obama that he can’t do that. In addition, a defeat from the left might in some ways benefit Obama by enabling him to position himself as a centrist, which is clearly how he intends to govern (and run for re-election).

    House progressives drew a line in the sand by saying, no bill without a public option; I’d like them to restate their position as, no mandate without a public option.

  3. kjc
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    thanks for posting this.

  4. Meta
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    And, who does the White House lash out at? Not Lieberman. But Dean.

  5. Posted December 17, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Hmm… yea… if this thing passes as is and it looks like we’ve just locked-in being the last industrialized country without universal healthcare of some kind… I really can’t see myself being happy living here 10 years from now. What a mess.

  6. tommy
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I echo Jules sentiments … fuckers!

    Mark if you believe what you wrote at he end of this post – The good news is, it’s not too late. Progressive Democrats could still fight for a public option … I know it’s unlikely, but Obama could still get serious and show some leadership – you really do belong in the next ‘Dreamland Theater’ production!

  7. Andy C
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Democratic control has been a total failure. Yes, Obama has done a few things but nothing Hilary wouldn’t have done. All three branches, useless. Looks like we give the ball back to the Republicans and roll the dice again in 12 years. I’m not holding my breath.

  8. The Kingpin
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Democrat or Republican…it doesn’t matter. They basically both have their favorite corporate charities, and will continue to feed & support them with gusto.

  9. Glen S.
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Call me cynical, but I’m beginning to believe that — in the same way the “mainstream” Republicans manipulate their “teabagger” base into supporting them by manipulating issues such as abortion, stem cells, and same-sex marriage — many “mainstream” Democrats have been using promises of financial-sector reform; job creation; and affordable, universal healthcare to lure their progressive base into providing money and support, only to backtrack on these issues once they get back into power.

  10. Bob
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem in coming to the conclusion that Obama is almost a complete letdown. I think he has no idea how much of his base is turning their backs on him. He is already setting himself up to be a one-term president. I wish Howard Dean were in there instead of being scapegoated by the dems and the media.

  11. Brackinald Achery
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Call me cynical, but I’m beginning to believe that — in the same way the “mainstream” Republicans manipulate their “teabagger” base into supporting them by manipulating issues such as abortion, stem cells, and same-sex marriage — many “mainstream” Democrats have been using promises of financial-sector reform; job creation; and affordable, universal healthcare to lure their progressive base into providing money and support, only to backtrack on these issues once they get back into power.

    Winner winner, chicken dinner.

  12. Mr. X
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Who thinks that Dean might be getting ready to challenge Barack in 2012?

  13. Posted December 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Here is my (likely pointless) letter to BO about his lameness on health care redform-
    While there is a lot of blame to spread around to republicans, democrats and the worst of the lot, Joe Lieberman, I think the majority of the blame needs to be laid at your feet, Mr. President.

    Your failure to take your popularity and support and offer DIRECT leadership on healthcare reform drove us to this place of failure. You abdicated responsibility for this once in a generation opportunity to right a terribly wrong system. You may have had good intentions, but you should have known better.

    Now, your approval is heading lower and lower and the health care reform bill is terrible.

    You failed the poorest and weakest among us and gave great benefit to some of the richest corporations at the same time. I’m ashamed of your actions in this area, Mr. President.

    Your lack of leadership, vision and guts on this has really been a disappointment.

  14. Andy C
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s strange to see so many of us in agreement. If we can get both parties to slip at once there might be hope. Liberals vote Green Party, and actual conservatives vote Libertarian Party. A actual four way race might bring down these useless Rep and Dems.

  15. Jon
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Third parties never seem to make much an impact. A nationwide no-incumbent vote might put a little more fear in our leaders.

  16. Oliva
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I think he [Obama] has no idea how much of his base is turning their backs on him.

    Think he probably does.

    I (stubbornly) remain grateful for writers such as Nate Silver (who put 20 questions to Glen Greenwald and Markos Moulitsas, who answered him), Steve Benen, Ta-Nehisi Coates, some posters at Kos, for thoughtful, progressive counterpoints to some of the statements by angrier other progressives. (Ideological purity isn’t necessarily optimal. Probably not workable in real life, anyway. And sticking there in one domain means we risk forsaking other important goals.)

    Meantime, how about some heavy lifting toward the society we want (beyond emails and calls to reps and senators, the president, each other), including on the racial front? (Robert has been doing it here admirably in keeping attention on the case of a young black man in Detroit who was likely framed and wrongly imprisoned.)

    The recession . . . has dealt a particularly punishing and uneven hand to blacks.

    . . . We are now inundated with examples of overt racism on a scale to which we are unaccustomed. Any protester with a racist poster can hijack a news cycle, while a racist image can live forever on the Internet.

    . . . If you look at the two-year trend, which would include Obama’s ascension as a candidate, anti-black hate crimes have risen 8 percent, while those against the other racial groups have fallen 19 percent.

    –Charles Blow, “Black in the Age of Obama,” NYT,, 4 Dec. 2009

  17. kjc
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think angry progressives are necessarily devoted to ideological purity. I’ve been hearing that quite a bit from the pragmatists though. It’s not really fair.

  18. kjc
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    And let me add—i’m GLAD people are angry. They should be.

  19. Oliva
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the route to a viable third party . . . not!

    on a widening range of issues, Obama’s critics to the right say he’s engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can’t both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.

    But, like this writer, I appreciate the fact that we’ve been moved to have this important conversation, now better than after a bunch of Republicans win back seats . . . and I’m glad for his point about ideology, which I could use to hear as I get frustrated about that issue and think digging in one’s heels too deeply, ideologically speaking, harms chances for creative problem solving and excludes too many worthwhile people.

    ideology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don’t talk about it–and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which should be the subject of future discussions–then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there’s far too much of that going on. “Progressive pragmatists”–the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens–often treat “the Left” condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don’t understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on “the Left” often treat “pragmatists” as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don’t take seriously other people’s ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect.

    –Ed Kilgore, “Taking Ideological Differences Seriously,”

  20. Oliva
    Posted December 17, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    kjc, a different post is awaiting moderation, but it addresses part of your point, which I appreciate. I just think there’s been more absolutism than comprehensiveness afoot lately among people who want the same thing, and to me it is ushering in some unhelpful shrillness, which weakens chances for mutual cooperation. Yet–yet the discussion is essential, important, worthwhile.

    The anger was over the top from the right many months ago. Add a whole lot more anger from the left (and really since the start plenty of writers/activists on the left were fuming about Geithner/Summers, understandably, and other maddening, frustrating things and weren’t eager to acknowledge any progressive gains). But with eyes on the left and right trained on severely hot hot-buttons, at the expense of other important matters, what good outcome is possible? We are stymied . . . ongoingly. But, but . . .

    Well, again, the discussion is essential.

    (Franken snubbed Lieberman today in the Senate–beautiful, righteous, even kind of funny. But won’t Lieberman just become an even bigger %$#&*, or is “even bigger” not possible in this case? How best to deal with people who lack basic decency and have no qualms about screwing throngs of others?)

  21. Posted December 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Dean has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post… Here it is.

    If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers’ monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.

    Real health-care reform is supposed to eliminate discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But the legislation allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to three times as much as younger Americans, pricing them out of coverage. The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries — in the range of $20 million a year — and on return on equity for the company’s shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled. In short, the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at AIG.

    From the very beginning of this debate, progressives have argued that a public option or a Medicare buy-in would restore competition and hold the private health insurance industry accountable. Progressives understood that a public plan would give Americans real choices about what kind of system they wanted to be in and how they wanted to spend their money. Yet Washington has decided, once again, that the American people cannot be trusted to choose for themselves. Your money goes to insurers, whether or not you want it to.

    To be clear, I’m not giving up on health-care reform. The legislation does have some good points, such as expanding Medicaid and permanently increasing the federal government’s contribution to it. It invests critical dollars in public health, wellness and prevention programs; extends the life of the Medicare trust fund; and allows young Americans to stay on their parents’ health-care plans until they turn 27. Small businesses struggling with rising health-care costs will receive a tax credit, and primary-care physicians will see increases in their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

    Improvements can still be made in the Senate, and I hope that Senate Democrats will work on this bill as it moves to conference. If lawmakers are interested in ensuring that government affordability credits are spent on health-care benefits rather than insurers’ salaries, they need to require state-based exchanges, which act as prudent purchasers and select only the most efficient insurers. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) offered this amendment during the Finance Committee markup, and Democrats should include it in the final legislation. A stripped-down version of the current bill that included these provisions would be worth passing.

    In Washington, when major bills near final passage, an inside-the-Beltway mentality takes hold. Any bill becomes a victory. Clear thinking is thrown out the window for political calculus. In the heat of battle, decisions are being made that set an irreversible course for how future health reform is done. The result is legislation that has been crafted to get votes, not to reform health care.

    I have worked for health-care reform all my political life. In my home state of Vermont, we have accomplished universal health care for children younger than 18 and real insurance reform — which not only bans discrimination against preexisting conditions but also prevents insurers from charging outrageous sums for policies as a way of keeping out high-risk people. I know health reform when I see it, and there isn’t much left in the Senate bill. I reluctantly conclude that, as it stands, this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America.

  22. Me
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    Oliva quoted Ed Kilgore, “Obama’s critics to the right say he’s engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can’t both be right, of course”
    Actually, Kilgore should think it through. They can both be right. The two sectors have been in collusion with the cash flowing back and forth for quite a while. If Kilgore thinks about it a just a little bit more, he will understand what third parties are really about.

  23. Me
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Me wrote, “They can both be right.”
    Just in a manner of speaking, of course.

  24. EOS
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Less than a week before they have promised to pass “some kind of health care reform” we still have no specifics on this legislation. What has passed in the house is meaningless if Pelosi puts the yet undisclosed Senate version to a quick vote with no debate. Our legislators will soon mandate health care coverage and confiscate an additional 17 – 22% of its citizens earnings for a health care bill that is opposed by 60% of the population. Our elected “representatives” will vote on a bill thousands of pages in length without even reading it or studying and debating its ramifications.

    The funding for this bill will come from increased fees charged to health care insurers, which will be passed on to consumers, increased premiums paid by consumers, decreased reimbursements paid to health care providers for Medicaid and Medicare, and massive cuts in funding Medicare, which will restrict health care for all of us when we reach the age when health care is of vital importance.

    Regardless of the fact that we disapprove of this bill for widely divergent reasons, we should acknowledge that this type of governance can’t exist without the collusion of the majority of voters. Call Dingell, Levin, and Stabenow and tell them to do it right or not at all. Promise them that you won’t vote to send them back to Washington unless they start acting and voting in a more responsible manner and stop playing politics on issues as vital as medical care.

    And then follow through. Stop voting for the candidate with the largest campaign fund, who accepts the most lobbyist money. Try electing honest individuals with the integrity to vote in alignment with their campaign promises. Send persons like Mr. Smith back to Washington and demand that they restore fiscal responsibility and sound government practices. Our government is in a state of crisis and its entirely our fault.

  25. Posted December 18, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Here’s the thing, IMO: the democrats never really had the votes for a public option, which does indeed suck, because 59 or 58 or so (if you lump Ben Nelson and some others into the caucus) does not equal 60. That is bad but that is the way that it is. And here’s another reality: in 2010 and/or 2012, there are going to be fewer democrats in the senate.

    So while I too would much prefer to have a public option (actually, I’d really want one of those “socialist medicine” plans where it is a government run single-payer plan), if the left tries to kill the modest gains that come from this current legislation, it’ll be another generation– literally– before there is any kind of health care reform. And I think it makes the chances at further reform better.

    Let me put it like this: you ask for ice cream over and over and OVER again for 40 or 50 years, literally. The answer is repeatedly no. Then finally, you’re able to get half an ice cream cone. Wouldn’t it be kinda dumb to turn that down?

  26. dp in ypsi
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    So does this mean that officially everyone who was drunk on “hope & change” are now in the hangover stage?

  27. Steph
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Only in this scenario we’re being told that we HAVE to buy that half-full ice cream cone from a company.

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