Public Option Might Not Be Dead

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I just came from The Atlantic's Health Care Forum in the Ronald Reagan Building, where I conducted the keynote interview with Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the recent past, and future, of health care. (My bias disclosed here; buy it in paperback this summer.) It's impossible to take notes or tweet about this sort of thing when you're up on stage firing off questions, of course--although members of the audience were tweeting it to #HCForum, if you want to check out some real-time views. But two things Waxman said stood out to me as being interesting and newsworthy.

The first came in response to a question I asked about what liberals might have wanted in the new law but didn't get. I cited the public option as an example, and Waxman, for his part, seemed to make clear that if the insurance exchanges don't function as intended--don't produce true competition--he'll revisit the idea of legislation to produce a public option (no idle threat when you're chairman of Energy and Commerce).

The second noteworthy thing was an exchange Waxman had with President Obama about health care that he shared with the audience. Obama told Waxman during the debate that many presidents before him had worked on health care legislation, and that he intended to be the last. Waxman replied that Lyndon Johnson had thought the same thing when he signed Medicare into law, and he says he told Obama that he certainly would not be the last president to work on health care. He's right, of course, and it's a good point to keep in mind: landmark laws like health care are practically living things, constantly changing and being updated well after they're signed into law.

Update: Another thing that struck me was how optimistic Waxman was that energy legislation would pass the Senate this year.

Later Update: Waxman also said Dems will hold the House this fall. I'd asked him, If you lose the House over health care, will it still have been worth it? Nicely played, Mr. Chairman.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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