For the past few days, I’ve been trying, by e-mail, to get the participants in the Northern Virginia Move-on Council to take my advice about the best way to get a good, strong, public option. Namely, to abandon the public option advocacy in favor of all-out support for “Medicare for All,” and specifically for HR 676, John Conyers’ bill. My efforts at this have been quite unsuccessful.
Today, I went to a face-to-face meeting called by the Council to plan activities for the rest of this month to provide explicit support for a “strong public option.” At the meeting I questioned the continuing strategy of Move-on calling for support for a strong public option. In one way or another, I made most of the points I made here.
Ultimately the answer I received from those running the meeting was this.
1. Last January, the members of Move-on voted to support health care reform featuring the public option in preference to single payer.
2. Strong support for a public option now, may save the public option, if all of us in Move-on unite to focus on the public option message.
3. There’s not enough time to change Move-on’s strategy now and support Medicare for All, even if that is our preference.
To these points I responded as follows. First, the Move-on vote was last January. How do you know that the public option reflects the view of Move-on members now? Answer: they don’t know, because they don’t continuously poll their members. Second, the public option strategy has been failing. The more time that passes, the more apparent it is that it is failing, and that we need to do something else. This weekend, the news is full of reports (WaPo, MSNBC, and NYTimes) that Obama will take the public option off the table shortly, and back a compromise bill that may contain Kent Conrad’s coops. What will you do if Obama does this before Jim Moran’s Town Meeting in Reston, VA on the 25th of August? Answer: Obama won’t do anything like that until Congress is back in session. But if and when he does do that, it won’t change our position at all.
Third, I know that time is short and that it will be difficult to change strategies now. But clearly the present strategy isn’t working. Why not follow Jane Hamsher’s example in whipping the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and unite to pressure the co-sponsors of HR 676 to take pledges not to vote for any measure that doesn’t provide for Medicare for All, or at least a very strong public option of the sort originally specified by Jacob Hacker? Are you really just going to go over the cliff with your original strategy? Answer: Yes, it’s Move-on’s strategy so we will follow it over the cliff. The rest of the meeting dealt with the mechanics of planning activities to explicitly support the public option.
I came away from the meeting with the following thoughts. Move-on selected its public option strategy with the understanding that the President would support the idea of a strong public option. Now he’s backing away from such support. Shouldn’t Move-on be moving on from its support for it too, and returning to its previous support of single-payer?
Further, Move-on approved its strategy in January. It’s now the middle of August, and it’s pretty plain that the strategy is not working. Why isn’t Move-on flexible enough to change its strategy in response to changing conditions and to move-on? Its opponents on the right are certainly flexible enough to do that. Also, how effective and adaptive is an organization that can’t change its strategy when its initial strategy meets with a problem? Can any political organization really afford to say to its members, that’s the strategy the members approved eight months ago and that’s the strategy we’re going over the cliff with?
Why must a volunteer organization like Move-on which exists on the sufferance and charity of its members, insist on a single message regardless of the opinions of its individual members? Wouldn’t such an organization be more adaptive and more successful, if it allowed all manner of messaging from its members so long as the messages involved were mutually supportive?
In the present political context, strong support for Medicare for All, only strengthens the hand of those who support the public option. Indeed, the best chance of getting a strong public option would exist if the 93 House Democrats who co-sponsored HR 676 would take a pledge to vote for nothing other than HR 676. In that case, since Obama must have a health care reform bill to safeguard his Administration’s future, he would finally be forced to whip both the Blue Dogs and the Progressives to support a robust public option along the lines Jacob Hacker originally suggested. Of course, both the progressives and the Blue Dogs would have to cross the lines in the sand they had drawn at that point, but there would be no more talk of a compromise bill that used coops or had a farcical public option like the ones we find in HR 3200 and the Senate HELP bill. The only compromise bill that would be feasible in that context would be Jacob Hacker’s robust public option.
Finally, it is worthwhile to mention that the compromise bills without a public option being considered now don’t include either Medicare for All, or a strong public option, but they do include a mandate for individuals and most businesses to buy health insurance and also provide subsidies for lower income individuals and families so they can comply with these mandates. In return the insurance companies would give up discrimination based on pre-conditions, rescissions, and practices that abrogate insurance policies once people become poor risks. What progressives need to consider is whether if they vote for such a bill at the urging of their President, they will really be able to make incremental progress towards a public option in the future, or whether further reform will be shut down for some time to come? After all, having voted to give the insurance companies an increased market and greater access to young and healthy customers, in return for insurance reforms aimed at such egregious abuses that they could certainly have been passed without giving the companies anything; what would they have remaining to trade with in order to get a future compromise on a public option