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As I’ve been predicting for some time, it appears that any health care reform bill which might pass the Senate will not have a “public option” in it. Over the weekend, Barack Obama and representatives of his Administration were carefully trying to backpedal away from the “public option” saying it’s not the essential part of health care reform. Now they’re talking about “co-ops” to compete with private insurers and they’re trying to spin the recent massive public outcry against a government takeover of health care into some sort of political victory.
If any health care reform bill passes, the Administration will be out on every talk show preening over their “accomplishment". But make no mistake, without a “public option” health care “reform” will be a substantial (and welcome) loss for The One. The left-wing base of the Democratic Party, which is increasingly all that’s left of the group fawning over him, desperately wanted a “public option". From the econo-moron residents of Boulder, Berkeley, and Manhattan, to Paul Krugman, to most especially the leadership of America’s largest labor unions, the left thought their great moment, when we move a giant leap closer to Euro-socialism, was upon us.
The econo-morons simply hate private industries that make money and were looking forward to attacking the health insurance industry. The unions were hoping that legislation would relieve them of much of the responsibility of paying for health insurance for their members and retirees, leaving the unions with a massive windfall of previously saved money which could then be turned into a political slush fund to reinvest in Democrats. Paul Krugman was in both of these camps. (And if there’s anyone who it’s great to see lose, it’s the former economist, now partisan political hack, with whom the NY Times sullies their editorial page.)
The coming politics will remain very interesting. First, it’s not clear that the rather large “progressive” (i.e. socialist) wing of the House Democrats will even support a bill without a government-run plan. Thus, we go from a situation where passage was extremely unlikely in the Senate to a situation where passage, while still likely, is far from assured in the House.
Also, you can bet that many who oppose government-run medicine (including yours truly) will be making efforts to explain to voters and politicians why co-ops are at best pointless and at worst just the camel’s nose under the tent on the path to government-run medicine. (For a brief discussion of these issues, see THIS article by the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner and THIS WSJ article.) It remains to be seen whether Republicans can become as steadfast in their opposition to co-ops as to a “public option". My guess is that there will be enough Republican support for the bill, just so they can’t be accused of being the “Party of ‘No’", that some bill will pass. It will make the situation worse, rather than better. It will probably include co-ops. And it will take two generations before we’re able to get rid of them.
In my view, the failure of Obama to pass a public option will substantially (and fortunately) damage his political power for the long run. Yes, he remains extremely popular and he’ll continue to have very large majorities in both houses of Congress, at least for another 18 months. But the fact that he will essentially have been beaten and that much of the reason for that beating came from the voting public (with poll numbers to prove it) will give “moderate” Democrats far more leeway to oppose Obama, Pelosi, and Reid than they might have felt they had just a couple of months ago.
The Democrats’ over-reaching was a perfect example of what I’ve been writing about for many months now: The assumption by elected politicians that they were elected because the public strongly supports their agenda, rather than the more usually true answer: that the public was just sick of the other guys. Luckily, we'll probably not have to go through a government-run health plan to cure this particular illness.