Sunday, September 6, 2009

Obama's Health Care Speech: Ominous Warnings in NY Times

What will Obama say on Wednesday about health reform? Today's New York Times could be an ominous early warning. Expanding public sector clout is at the heart of any meaningful proposal to control health care costs, and to expand coverage. Over the past year, the Times has published a lot on the potential for a strong public option to get us there, and also given unusually wide visibility to a sure-fire solution, single payer. Today's edition is a reverse road map to defeat.

The editorial calls on the President to "stand tough for a large and comprehensive plan," and "point out the cynicism of Republican opponents who are late-blooming advocates of deficit reduction," having passed passed "tax cuts for wealthy Americans that will cost more than $1.7 trillion over 10 years."

What is his wiggle room? Go for insurance reforms, and hold strong for a public plan, but, "if he decides to bargain it away later, he should insist, minimally, that a strong public plan be introduced if private insurers fail to hold costs down in the future." To echo Barney Frank, on what planet have the editors been spending most of their time? Apparently it will now be up to the public that voted for change to demand it.

It gets worse. The editorial goes on to bemoan that neither party has a "sure-fire solution to rein in medical inflation" while improving quality of care. Well, sure we do, and the Times has coeverd it. The news pages report on deliberations with former Clinton-era advisors, recounting the errors of failing to pass health reform, once having opened the door, and pointing out candidate Obama's relatively moderate positions on universal coverage.

It's time to take stock. It's been a bad summer. Opponents of reform, and of the Administration, have had one clear goal: Stop it. They've had the expansive coffers of the insurance industry to draw upon. Advocates have been taken aback at the teabaggers' vitriol, unhinged demeanor, and outright threats.

The union movement and other organizations that have led reform movements in the past have been weakened by decades of economic globalization and at least 8 years of vicious political attacks. In the face of shockingly hard times for many, we in the public appear to be struggling but stunned. And yes, there's been some internecine squabbling among reform factions.

But we have resources, and we should have leadership. The President and his team showed us they know how to run a great ad campaign. They likely calculated that they couldn't eliminate the insurance industry in one fell swoop; and they lost a great legislative strategist in Ted Kennedy. But isn't there a Plan B? The Congressional Progressive Caucus has done a great job of describing what a strong public option should be: open to all from day one, building on Medicare's reimbursement rates and provider base. They have had constraints in articulating and conveying these views to the public. There must be a way to support the President while using their considerable clout to mobilize support for the reform they know we need.

Health care can be a wonky issue. It can also shake us up and build alliances. If we need to pass something let’s make it a step forward, for policy and politics.

Between now and Wednesday, we need to tell the White House we expect to hear a call to arms. We knew all along that voting for President would not be the last thing we had to do to achieve social change. Hopefully, it was at least the first.

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