Is Obama ready to drop public option?

Bowing to Republican pressure, President Barack Obama’s administration signaled on Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new health care system.

Facing mounting opposition to the overhaul, administration officials left open the chance for a compromise with Republicans that would include health insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Such a concession probably would enrage Obama’s liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers.

Officials from both political parties reached across the aisle in an effort to find compromises on proposals they left behind when they returned to their districts for an August recess. Obama had sought the government to run a health insurance organization to help cover the nation’s almost 50 million uninsured, but he never made it a deal breaker in a broad set of ideas that has Republicans unified in opposition.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that government alternative to private health insurance is "not the essential element" of the administration’s health care overhaul. The White House would be open to co-ops, she said, a sign that Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate, especially in rural states such as his own.

With $3 billion to $4 billion in initial support from the government, the co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government. They would be required to maintain the type of financial reserves that private companies are required to keep in case of unexpectedly high claims.

"I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," Sebelius said. "That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing."

Obama’s spokesman refused to say a public option was a make-or-break choice.

"What I am saying is the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday.

A day before, Obama appeared to hedge his bets.

"All I’m saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. "This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

Lawmakers have discussed the co-op model for months although the Democratic leadership and the White House have said they prefer a government-run option.

Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called the argument for a government-run public plan little more than a "wasted effort." He added there are enough votes in the Senate for a cooperative plan.

"It’s not government-run and government-controlled," he said. "It’s membership-run and membership-controlled. But it does provide a nonprofit competitor for the for-profit insurance companies, and that’s why it has appeal on both sides."

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Obama’s team is making a political calculation and embracing the co-op alternative as "a step away from the government takeover of the health care system" that the GOP has pummeled.

"I don’t know if it will do everything people want, but we ought to look at it. I think it’s a far cry from the original proposals," he said.

Republicans say a public option would have unfair advantages that would drive private insurers out of business. Critics say co-ops would not be genuine public options for health insurance.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said it would be difficult to pass any legislation through the Democratic-controlled Congress without the promised public plan.

"We’ll have the same number of people uninsured," she said. "If the insurance companies wanted to insure these people now, they’d be insured."

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said the Democrats’ option would force individuals from their private plans to a government-run plan, a claim that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office supports.

"There is a way to get folks insured without having the government option," he said.

A shift to a cooperative plan would certainly give some cover to fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats who are hardly cheering for the government-run plan.

"The reality is that it takes 60 percent to get this done in the Senate. It’s probably going to have to be bipartisan in the Senate, which I think it should be," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who added that the proposals still need changes before he can support them.

Obama, writing in Sunday’s New York Times, said political maneuvers should be excluded from the debate.

"In the coming weeks, the cynics and the naysayers will continue to exploit fear and concerns for political gain," he wrote. "But for all the scare tactics out there, what’s truly scary — truly risky — is the prospect of doing nothing."

Congress’ proposals, however, seemed likely to strike end-of-life counseling sessions. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has called the session "death panels," a label that has drawn rebuke from her fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declined to criticize Palin’s comments and said Obama wants to create a government-run panel to advise what types of care would be available to citizens.

"In all honesty, I don’t want a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats setting health care for my aged citizens in Utah," Hatch said.

Sebelius said the end-of-life proposal was likely to be dropped from the final bill.

"We wanted to make sure doctors were reimbursed for that very important consultation if family members chose to make it, and instead it’s been turned into this scare tactic and probably will be off the table," she said.

Sebelius spoke on CNN’s "State of the Union" and ABC’s "This Week." Gibbs appeared on CBS’ "Face the Nation." Conrad and Shelby appeared on "Fox News Sunday." Johnson, Price and Ross spoke with "State of the Union." Hatch was interviewed on "This Week."


  1. batai37

    Why in the hell is Obama caving to the Repugs?
    Do or do not the Dems have a solid majority in Congress? Since when is our system designed to submit to the “mob rule” evident in the choreographed disruptions of these so-called Town Hall Meetings?

    Say goodbye to any meaningful healthcare reform designed to get the 45.7 million people with no insurance some relief.

  2. storky

    Without the public option, there is no reform.

    I agree. Rework the plan in the absence of Republicans. They are merely obstructionists. No compromise will lead to Republican votes, so screw ’em!

  3. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Yep! The D-Crappers are afraid of their own shadows despite the fact they have solid majorities in das haus.

    I’ve never been crazy about Sir Obama of Camelot but if could get his health care reform passed in un-diluted form I might have a small sliver of respect for him but it looks like he’s giving into the Republikaners.

    If Sir Obama of Cameot doesn’t hold his ground on this issue, how does he expect to have any respect from his base. If O-Bomba does cave, this is the end of his presidency.

    I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat but ever since
    2000 when Al Gore caved in so easy and allowed the certification of Shrubya’s presidency without contesting the results I have given up on the D-Crappers.

    The D-Crappers are such Spineless Jellyfish, especially Fancy Pants ‘No More Checks For Bush’ Nancy Pelosi and Hairy Reed with his capitulation by voting for retro-active immunity for telecoms.

    My digust of the D-Crappers extends of course to Sir Obama of Camelot who voted for retro-active immunity for telecoms.

    All the D-Crappers, every one of em’ are Spineless Jellyfish and paper hanging S.O.B.’s.

  4. storky

    You are correct. They are pathetic in many respects.

    I’ll be damned . . . we’ll all be damned, however, if the misinformed teabaggers, birthers and deathers achieve victory.

  5. bryan mcclellan

    He might do this, he might do that.
    Hell, this is turning out to be more akin to a Mel Brooks screwball comedy than serious governance.

    What could possibly be wrong with burying the private insurers deep enough in competition to force them to offer a fair and honest product?

    Why does it take 1000 pages plus to do the right thing? There is no looking for a deal as if we were buying a used car. If as you stated Mr President, you will stake your tenure on this one fight, then for all that you are worth, fight.

    Why are you Mr President, standing at the invisible crossroads of rhetoric minus the sand that makes us Americans with the likes of those that have paved this road of inequality, and who continue to apparently lead you as if a lamb?

    Right now our troops are in mortal peril as they are relegated to to the back page while their Boss is chicken shitting out to the money changers who sent them on multiple missions of mass distraction.
    They of all people if they survive, will come home to sub par facilities, long waits for deserved care, and largely unceremonious ejection back into a society of greed run amok.

    Mr President, you owe our armed forces better. Your mission if you so choose to take it, is to put our Guardians welfare first and foremost, then model the civilian program after that.
    Consider how you would want to be treated and it’s simple, what’s good for those who serve should be good for every American regardless.

    How can you Mr President be two leaders at once? Frankly I’ve had a belly full of your juxtaposing and pity you not for your sore toes which you have allowed to be tromped upon ever since you started this health care dance. Our feet are flattened and bloodied also, if you and the circus that surrounds you care to notice.

    Stand up like the men and woman at the many walls betwixt freedom and tyranny. Do it this very minute so that by your actions and resolve our kinship will be strengthened.It was you after all that said, I am the peoples candidate.
    A leader can do no less at his own peril.

  6. Carl Nemo

    Again, a beautifully written, moving piece Mr. McClellan…! : )

    We’re witnessing Jimmy Carter redux except Jimmy is doing a “blackface” routine this time around… /:|

    Carl Nemo **==

    p.s. So readers won’t think I made a racist remark, I’ll provide a link to this art form.

  7. storky

    Why does it take 1000 pages plus to do the right thing?

    Easy. most of it is committed to responsibility and enforcement of rules. These are attempts to rein in the corruption so flagrantly and contemptuously displayed by bureaucrats appointed by the last administration.

  8. Carl Nemo

    Hi Almandine,

    Since I highly respect your comments and intellect; then if I could delete my Carter/blackface analogy, I would do so simply to negate your comment which reflects your feelings and possibly others about this piece of writing.

    I deleted my commentary to the Rob Kezelis article “Why we need Death Panels” after you mentioned your personal grief concerning your dog and your father’s failing health; simply because I felt that I might be causing you additional pain with my comment to his article.

    In the event I have caused others discomfort by disparaging our President, by implying with my Carter/blackface analogy that he’s a single term phenomenon, then I apologize. I rarely do this, but I consider my fellow site participants to be friends in thought, regardless of our differences in opinion.

    Carl Nemo **==

  9. almandine

    Hey Carl –

    Not to worry. I am moved by your deletion, but am fully in the now with respect for life and its inconveniences. No guarantees, my friend.

    As for the blackface reference, I also took no umbrage… mine was merely a comment on political correctness. I remember as a boy going to the local minstrel show held every Fall at West Junior High School – complete with a [Aunt Jemima] pancake supper held as a fundraiser for the school. Even the “colored” community would show up for the festivities. A truly swell time was had by all – for many many years. Of course, those 1950’s style events are out of bounds today.

    So, as far as I’m concerned, disparage away. I really believe the guy deserves it. Come on 2012.

  10. bryan mcclellan

    Sir, Mr Nemo;
    I, as with you and our friends here, view this predicament as anything but a race.

    Sometime ago I’d have given anything to be left alone, to have peace with a voice in reserve, accustomed to my world.

    Alas, time has a wicked way of revealing long held lessons till just the right time.I’ve no problem with chain of command, other than it takes a spokesman/silver tongue.

    So, I feel free to call out the President.
    Poor guy is a victim of his mind or/and, their tongue.

    My admonition is to try to keep clarity in my humble pie.

    You know , when news is old with solution narrow.

  11. griff

    A race indeed. It’s not what’s in the policy so much as who wrote it. It doesn’t matter what massive bureacracy this will unleash, Obama wants it, and the faithful will follow.

    I say we implement a Tobin Tax on all Wall Street transactions to fund medicare and medicaid for all those without insurance. Leave the free market to take care of the rest. Simple as that.

    If it must be done, let the thieves on Wall Street fund it.

  12. Carl Nemo

    Wow Griff, truly a capital idea; ie., taxing the mega-thieves on Wall Street, the banking centers and even a pinch off the massive gambling revenues nationwide from lotteries, casino’s, bingo parlors etc. would be in order… 😐

    Carl Nemo **==

  13. bryan mcclellan

    Bereft of my knowledge of the Tobin Tax, the race is going faster, as we slow it down for examination.

    Whence man held that dear possession of soul, a fragile resiliency to bullshit deserted him.

  14. Doc_Holiday

    My only problem with the whole thing. Is where the money is going to be pulled from to pay for this big insurance overhaul. I have heard a few spit balled ideas, and believe me i do believe they were just spit balled. The government can only do so much before they have to start pulling it from the people.

    Yes, they could just print more money. God only knows how much wear and tear has been put on the presses in the past 6 months. But that would only turn the few bills I do have in my wallet into custom made toilet paper.

  15. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    I remember the myopia when Sir Obama of Camelot won on election eve and all the Lexus Liberals were waxing about it being a ‘new era’ -Yada -Yada -Yada.

    Oh, I remember some of my Democrat neighbors who I love dearly who had tears in their eyes watching the Obamas on stage election eve as if Jesus just walked out of a UFO.

    My Local Congresswoman/person/human is crap, Anna Eshoo who is hiding, afraid to attend any town meeting because she is afraid of getting yelled at by the Einsatzgruppen Light Clowns.

    Maybe I am too myopic but I remember up until the Shrubya era I had a reasonable amount of respect for the Democrats, but now it is total disgust.

    I get even more disgusted when I confront some of my dear Democratic neighbors and they seem to be in a state of denial because they just keep singing silly love songs about Obama saying, “Oh Don’t worry, it’s just a temporary setback, a strategic retreat”.

    I got tired of constantly calling my D-Crapper represenatives and senators when they continually just back down for political expediency.

    DEMOCRATIC CALL TO ARMS: “Run Away -Run Away!!!”