Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's called a "trial balloon" and this one exploded early in flight

In all this talk about will there or won't there be a public option in any health care reform legislation, did anyone notice that President Obama was never the one who said the idea of a public option was being abandoned? No, that job fell to his Secretary of Health (actually the full title this days is Health and Human Services Secretary) Kathleen Sebelius.

This kind of "White House leak" used to be a common practice when democracy was really practiced in this country. It's what makes democracy work. In my days as a freelance writer and a reporter for United Press International, I would attend what were called "background" conferences at the White House, some of them even conducted by the President himself. A "background" conference meant we could use the information we were told by the White House officials, although we could never attribute it to anyone by name. So "a White House official" usually meant someone at a cabinet-level rank, a "top White House official" meant someone on the President's staff and a "chief White House spokesman" usually meant the President himself.

This was done so that the President could gauge the reaction to whatever policy or program he was thinking of initiating. If it received a positive reaction, then the following stories would begin "The White House confirmed today that ... " If it was met with a hostile reaction, the White House would simply deny making the statements. It was democracy in action in its purest form.

I'm saying all this because it was left to Ms. Sibelius to test the waters on substituting an ill-defined, nebulous "cooperatives plan" for a "public option" alternative in the proposed health care reform legislation. But as soon as the President saw that this idea would cost him hundreds of Democratic votes in the House of Representatives without one signal of support from the Republican lawmakers he was trying to court, the President quickly backed off.

And, let's face it, the Republicans aren't interested in providing health care to begin with. They are only interested in protecting the insurance companies that contribute so heavily to their re-election campaigns. The only thing Republicans will support is the status quo.

However, unless Americans are given the option of choosing between private and public health care plans, there will not be any kind of meaningful reform and the United States will continue to be a second-rate country when it comes to caring for its own citizens. One political observer went so far as to write today that "later this year President Obama will sign a health insurance reform bill into law that will indeed include a strong public option."

So there's that.

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