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How Liberals Killed the Public Option

Morgen on December 17, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I find it a little ironic that liberals continue to ruthlessly attack Joe Lieberman for killing the public option (and it’s evil twin, the Medicare buy-in) given the central role that liberals themselves played in precipitating it’s demise. Including some of the very same individuals now vilifying him.

While Lieberman has been hammered by the left for many of the supporting reasons he has given for opposing the public option, the centerpiece of his argument has always been that the public option was a policy instrument designed by liberals to move the country towards a single payer system. Here is Lieberman speaking on Face the Nation back on Nov. 1 when this controversy initially erupted:

The public option I think was raised in the last year by people who really want to have a government-controlled health insurance system. That’s their right. I think they’re wrong.

And here is Lieberman speaking to CNS News on Nov. 10:

People, I think, who really want a single-payer system and government control of health insurance are using the public option as a nose under the tent, a camel’s nose under the tent…they’ve got a right to that point of view – I think they’re wrong and I think it would be terrible for the country and for health care, so I’ve got to stop it.

So where is the liberal rebuttal to this argument? There is none because this assertion is irrefutably true. We know this thanks to a handful of prominent liberal supporters of healthcare reform who have been caught on tape over the past year admitting that this was indeed the ultimate agenda of the public option.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, who accused Lieberman of being willing to “cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people” in order to settle a political score, admitted on tape at a conference last year that the public option was a “sneaky strategy” to move towards a single payer system. And that it would be “sweet” to put private insurers out of business. When his comments were made public earlier this year he lied. Repeatedly.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who also accused Lieberman of “gutting” the health bill out of spite, has been caught on tape more than once stating that the public option would “kill” private insurers and “sneak up on” a single payer system.

Yale Professor Jacob Hacker, also known as the “father of the public option”, accused Lieberman this week of misrepresenting his (Hacker’s) position on the Medicare buy-in as a basis for opposing it. Yet Hacker has had his own YouTube moment, admitting at a conference last year that the public option “is not a trojan horse” for single-payer, “it’s just RIGHT THERE”. Adding, “we’ll get there, over time, eventually”.

And lastly, there is the video which started it all. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, speaking at a health reform rally this past April, unequivocally stated that the public option would “put private insurers out of business and lead to single payer“. Furthermore, she argued that the dispute between public option and single payer supporters was “not a principled fight”. But rather – “this is a fight about strategy for getting there and I believe we will”.

Liberals try can shift the blame to Lieberman all they want, but the simple fact of the matter is he has taken a principled position in opposition to a blatant attempt to deceive the American public about the ultimate goal of reform.


Lieberman took liberals at their word when they admitted that their ultimate aim was a government take-over of the heath care system. And he is hardly alone in believing this to be a bad idea. So he opposed the provision. It’s as simple as that.

Ultimately if there is anyone who should be held responsible for the public option debacle, it’s President Obama. He bought off on including it as part of his healthcare platform during the campaign. And in spite of his repeated claims this year that the public option is not a trojan horse for a single payer system, it defies belief that someone as politically astute and detail-oriented as Obama was not fully aware that this was indeed the intention of those who originally conceived of and promoted the idea.

Furthermore, throughout the debate this year the President and others in his Administration have repeatedly made confusing and contradictory statements about their level of support for the public option. On various occasions it was necessary in order to “keep insurers honest” and provide “choice and competition” in the market. But then it wasn’t “the entirety of reform”, and was obviously expendable in the end.

As has become increasingly clear this week, many liberals supported healthcare reform chiefly because of the public option. This is likely why the Administration continued to equivocate over their support up until the end. Believing that when ultimately faced with the choice of a bill without a public option, or no bill at all, most liberals would grudgingly come around to supporting an “imperfect” bill.

But with Howard Dean and some prominent bloggers (Kos, Hamsher) already coming out in opposition to the Senate bill, and the unions threatening to do the same, this strategy seems to be on the verge of backfiring. And short of a kamikaze decision to use the reconciliation process in order to pass the bill, the Administration is pretty much out of options.

A bitter defeat would be a fitting rebuke for an Administration complicit in deceiving the public and misleading even their own supporters. With the left, right, and center now opposed to the bill, and the Administration frantically scrambling to get this done prior to the State of the Union address, I’d say the President’s single-payer chickens have come home to roost.

Lastly, I commend Senator Lieberman for opposing the public option deception, and for his integrity in standing up for the best interests of the American people on this issue. Even though I continue to disagree with him on other aspects of the bill, he does not deserve the ugly attacks coming at him from the left.

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Category: Health & Education, Politics |

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