Monday, January 25, 2010

Can The Public Option Be Resuscitated?


Yesterday many of us got ominous-sounding e-mail alerts from DFA and MoveOn:
Howie -

After one bad Senate election, most Democrats in Washington are on the verge of full-fledged retreat and everything we've fought for together hangs in the balance.

President Obama has signaled he's open to dramatically scaling back health care reform. The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee says he might gut the financial reform bill to appease Republicans. And on top of all that, the Supreme Court just opened the floodgates of corporate cash on politics!

Retreat is exactly the wrong message for Democrats to take from recent election losses. The lesson from Massachusetts is that voters want more change-- not less. It's time for Democrats to stand up to corporate interests and fight for working families by passing healthcare reform and taking on Wall Street.

Amen! that. And then there's Congress-- which, alas, is made up of congressmen who are, alas, the very definition of "risk averse." And even worse than your typical overly cautious-- some would say, unkindly, "cowardly"-- congressman are your Democratic freshmen. They're bred-- or maybe "DCCC-selected" would be a better way to put it-- to never think of any good greater than next year's re-election race except for one thing: this year's re-election race. And when the Democratic freshmen caucus met last week the loudest and clearest message they had for leadership was that the Senate healthcare bill is one cup of poison they're not swallowing. Following that meeting, Speaker Pelosi announced she does not have the votes to pass the Senate bill.

What would make the Senate bill more acceptable to them? In other words, what would make it more probable that their constituents would vote for them? Well getting rid of the idiotic excise tax on what Corporate America and Fox have conveniently dubbed "Cadillac Plans" would make the bill less onerous and less unpopular but would it make it actually popular? Would anything, yes, all research-- short of Dick Armey surveys at astroturf events-- points to one thing: the public option. Look at that chart up top from Lake Research. Vulnerable freshmen have.

Our pals at DFA and PCCC are polling in several districts right now, districts represented by freshmen in shaky re-election races like Maryland Blue Dog Frank Kratovil (an opponent of healthcare reform) and Ohio progressive Mary Jo Kilroy (a supporter of healthcare reform). Here's part of a polling memo members of Congress have been looking at:
A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that Americans are divided over congressional health reform proposals, but also that large shares of people, including skeptics, become more supportive after being told about many of the major provisions in the bills.

The January Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted before the Massachusetts Senate vote, finds opinion is divided when it comes to the hotly debated legislation, with 42 percent supporting the proposals in the Congress, 41 percent opposing them and 16 percent withholding judgment. However, a different and more positive picture emerged when we examined the public’s awareness of, and reactions to, major provisions included in the bills. Majorities reported feeling more favorable toward the proposed legislation after learning about many of the key elements, with the notable exceptions of the individual mandate and the overall price tag.

For example, after hearing that tax credits would be available to small businesses that want to offer coverage to their employees, 73 percent said it made them more supportive of the legislation. Sixty-seven percent said they were more supportive when they heard that the legislation included health insurance exchanges, and 63 percent felt that way after being told that people could no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Sixty percent were more supportive after hearing that the legislation would help close the Medicare “doughnut hole” so that seniors would no longer face a period of having to pay the full cost of their medicines. Of the 27 elements of the legislation tested in the poll, 17 moved a majority to feel more positively about the bills and two moved a majority to be more negative.

The DFA/PCCC polling should be out tomorrow is out now. Will it be enough to move the anti-reform Blue Dogs towards the plan for resuscitating the public option-- or even a Medicare buy-in for people between 50 and 65? It could happen although seeing reflexive aisle-crossers-- the ones who have voted with the Democrats less than a third of the time on substantive issues in the last year (like craven Blue Dogs Baron Hill, John Barrow, Ann Kirkpatrick, Chris Carney, Jim Matheson, Mike Ross, Heath Shuler, Joe Donnelly, Jason Altmire, Frank Kratovil, Jim Marshall, Glenn Nye, Scott Murphy, Walt Minnick, Charlie Melancon, Harry Mitchell, Dan Boren, Bobby Bright, or Mississippi reactionary Travis Childers who stood with the Democrats exactly 15.15% of the time, Boehner's favorite Blue Dog) seems about as likely as seeing Republicans make a move towards doing something to help working families.

Is there an answer? Not in the short run, I'm afraid. In the long run? Replace conservatives-- from both sides of the aisle-- with progressives. Join Blue America's crusade to send the Democratic Party a message by defeating conservative, anti-working family Democrats and replacing them with real Democrats who support the legitimate aspirations of ordinary Americans.

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