|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The public option in the Senate bill, it should be emphasized, is a compromise of a compromise already. The first compromise was to have the public plan negotiate its rates directly with providers, rather than set them based on Medicare’s rates. This compromise meant that the Congressional Budget Office was unlikely to score the public plan as producing the huge savings that it projected for a plan that used Medicare-based rates. Whether CBO was right in discounting the negotiated-rate plan’s savings is another matter--as I have written on this site, it’s likely underestimating the cost-containment potential--but the CBO’s numbers rule on Capitol Hill.
The second compromise was to allow states that did not want to have the public plan operating within their borders to “opt out” with the passage of a state law. How many states will take advantage of this option is unclear, but it’s certain to reduce the impact of the public plan even further. Indeed, the CBO is now projecting—again, pessimistically in my view--that only a few million Americans will enroll in the public plan. Yet none of this has apparently appeased the handful of hold-outs. Emboldened by the White House’s lack of clarity and pressure on the issue, they are digging in their heels and spewing false claims about the public plan (for example, that it’s a budget buster when there are no special government subsidies for it and the CBO projects it will exert downward pressure on private premiums, thus lowering the price tag of reform). Hence the new push to find some kind of middle road.
The problem is that the “middle-ground” ideas that are currently flying around aren’t in the middle at all.
In short, the new compromise proposals are anything but. They represent calls for advocates of the public plan to eat their crumbs and be happy. But a majority of Senators support the public plan. At least two--Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and Senator Burris of Illinois--have said having a real public plan in the legislation is a precondition for their support. Those who believe in the public plan—and, more important, who believe in the principle it embodies: that no American who lacks access to good insurance should be forced to buy coverage from the private plans that got us into our present mess--should stand firm in the face of these non-compromises.
This includes President Obama. He made the public plan part of his promise of change in 2008. Now he needs to put his weight and influence behind the public plan and its essential goals, rather than allow them to be gutted. This is in our nation’s interest. It is also in his and his party’s political interest. A bill that forces people to take private insurance but doesn’t create competition or a public benchmark is a prescription for unaffordable coverage, runaway costs, and political backlash. The “middle ground” is nowhere to stand if it’s going to crumble beneath you.