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Blog

    Senators Won't Enroll in Public Option

    07/20/2009

    One of the big points we hear from the grassroots again and again is "If this public plan is so good, will Congress enroll?"  The answer is, of course not.  That's the give-away.  The new public option will be good enough for everyone else, but our elected officials will keep their own cushy plan.

    According to the Wall Street Journal Sen. Coburn put members of the Senate health committee on the spot last week when he proposed just that  - an amendment that would put all Congressmen and their staff on the public plan.  As the WSJ puts it, they got a taste of their own medicine with a predictable outcome.

    In the health debate, liberals sing Hari Krishnas to the "public option" -- a new federal insurance program like Medicare -- but if it's good enough for the middle class, then surely it's good enough for the political class too? As it happens, more than a few Democrats disagree.

    On Tuesday, the Senate health committee voted 12-11 in favor of a two-page amendment courtesy of Republican Tom Coburn that would require all Members and their staffs to enroll in any new government-run health plan. Yet all Democrats -- with the exceptions of acting chairman Chris Dodd, Barbara Mikulski and Ted Kennedy via proxy -- voted nay.

    In other words, Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse won't themselves join a plan that "will offer benefits that are as good as those available through private insurance plans -- or better," as the Ohio and Rhode Island liberals put it in a recent op-ed. And even a self-described socialist like Vermont's Bernie Sanders, who supports a government-only system, wouldn't sign himself up.

    Of course, they also qualify now for generous Congressional coverage. Most Americans won't have the same choice. Some will be transferred to the new entitlement as it uses its taxpayer bankroll to dominate insurance markets. Others work for businesses that will find it easier to dump their policies and move employees to the federal rolls. Democrats also know that the public option will try to control health spending by squeezing payments made to doctors and hospitals, and by not paying for treatments that Washington decides are too expensive, which will result in inferior care.

    No doubt Mr. Dodd acceded to the Coburn amendment to blunt such objections, and in any case he'll strip it out later in some backroom. Judd Gregg was the only GOP Senator to oppose it, on humanitarian grounds. As he told us in an interview, the public option "will be so bad that I don't think anyone should be forced to join."