Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama Will Address Joint Session of Congress But Likely Won't Insist on Public Option

Just a few days ago I wrote a post about how Sen. Jim Webb and other members of Congress are disappointed with the fact that President Obama hasn’t been more specific about what he’d like to see in a health care reform bill. So when I was driving to a meeting today and I heard that he would be making an address before a joint session of Congress to lay out a more detailed vision, I was quite pleased. Perhaps he should have done this from the beginning, but at least he was going to be giving some clear direction in what he wanted as the discussion moves forward.

Unfortunately, it appears as though this might not be a good thing for those of us who support a strong public option. According to a story on Politico, it appears as though Obama won’t be using this opportunity to advocate for a public option. In fact, some White House aides have suggested that they are simply looking to make a quick compromise in order to make Obama look good in the polls and believe that not insisting on a public option will provide an opportunity to claim Obama can stand up to the Democratic base.
On health care, Obama’s willingness to forgo the public option is sure to anger his party’s liberal base. But some administration officials welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one. The confrontation would allow Obama to show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done.
People like Rahm Emmanuel seem to be very concerned about Obama’s approval ratings. What they don’t seem to realize is that his numbers are decreasing partially because he hasn’t been living up to some of the ideas he presented during the campaign that excited the Democratic base. This isn’t just a one time thing either the White House has weakened it’s rhetoric on the public option on several occasions during the last few weeks. Every time they did it before, people genuinely interested in true health care reform expressed their concern and Robert Gibbs was forced to come out and say that Obama still supports reform.

While the White House's flip-flopping on the issue definitely doesn't help things, the truly disappointing part of the Politico story is that it suggests Obama has some advisers around him who are so concerned about his poll numbers that they are willing to sacrifice an opportunity to help ensure everyone has access to affordable health care. This is an issue that people have been working on for decades and it appears as though we are the closest we’ve been in decades to actually passing substantive legislation. If folks like Rahm Emmanuel are going to let extremists on the right scare our leaders into sacrificing any hope of real reform, however, then we might have to wait even longer while even more families are forced to declare bankruptcy due to the ever increase cost of health care in our country.

If the president’s advisers are going to continue to give him such bad advice, then we need to make sure that our elected officials (including Obama) receive the advice of the majority of Americans who support the public option. I therefore strongly encourage folks to write letters to the editor, call into radio talk shows, attend rallies and lobby day events, and contact your members of Congress. The huge insurance companies want to keep the status quo so that they can continue to rake in the large profits, but we cannot let them win. It’s time to stand up for what’s right and make sure that he listens to the advice of the American people.

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