Why The White House Isn't Pushing the Public Option

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Though generally excited about the ultimate fate of health care, liberal activists are upset that the White House has expended no time or energy building support in the Senate for a public option. The reason why is a bit complex. On the record, the White House is saying nothing. If pressed, spokespeople might imply that using reconciliation to push through a public option would complicate the rest of the provisions, and the last thing they need now is a long parliamentary debate on health care. On background, the White House might say that the public option is a distraction, and that White House support for repealing the industry's anti-trust exemption fits better into the political frame into which the White House has placed its health care bill: that insurance companies are raising premiums. (Of course, the point of the public option is to pressure companies into lowering premiums.) Off the record, they might say that liberals are making the same mistake they made earlier and misreading the president: he is not intent on demolishing the private insurance market and does not intend to use a strong public option to do so. However, the White House seems to be making the same mistake it made, as Ezra Klein notices: by not saying anything about the public option, they're leaving it on the line, twisting in the wind; if they don't want it, say so, and it's dead. If they do want it (which they don't), then they should campaign for it.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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