Liberals: We Lost the Health Care Battle But Won the War

A consensus is forming on the left: despite the handwringing, it's worth losing the public option

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Last week it looked like a Medicare buy-in compromise could save the public option, but failure to secure the votes--thanks to some serious opposition work by Sen. Joe Lieberman--appears to have killed the public option for good. After many months of wrangling (and the successful passage of the public option in the House), liberals are unsurprisingly frustrated and angry. But a new consensus is on emerging on the left that, although the loss of the public option is a short-term defeat, it produces long-term victory by making health care reform more likely. There's an element of spin here; after all, many liberals have spent close to a year fervently demanding a public option. But could they have a case?

  • Lose The Battle, Win The War  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains. "A lot of progressives woke up this morning feeling like they lost. They didn't. The public option and its compromised iterations were a battle that came to seem like a war. But they weren't the war. The bill itself was."
  • 'Why Progressives Are Batshit Crazy to Oppose the Senate Bill'  Nate Silver crunches the numbers and finds that a hypothetical family earning $54,000/year would pay $19,576 for health insurance in 2016 if nothing changes. But with the Senate legislation (sans public option), that drops to $9,000. "I understand that most of the liberal skepticism over the Senate bill is well intentioned. But it has become way, way off the mark. Where do you think the $800 billion goes? It goes to low-income families just like these. Where do you think it comes from? We won't know for sure until the Senate and House produce their conference bill, but it comes substantially from corporations and high-income earners, plus some efficiency gains."
  • Would Still Make History  Matthew Yglesias praises the legislation even without a public option or Medicare buy-in. "If Barack Obama signs it into law, he’ll go down as the president with the most progressive legislative accomplishments since Lyndon Johnson. You’ll say that the American welfare state was inaugurated by FDR, substantially expanded by Johnson, and given its final shape by Obama," he writes. "As it stands, the level-playing field public option took a bullet for the team. And consequently, millions of currently uninsured Americans are closer than ever to having insurance and the rest of us are closer than ever to having a sense of security that if our own insurance goes away we won’t be left high and dry."
  • PO Debate Protected Rest of Reform  The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn praises liberal Senators who "simply care too much about people struggling with their medical bills--people who would still benefit, clearly, from reform without a public option--to mount further resistance." He writes, "Disappointed progressives may be wondering whether their efforts were a waste. They most decidedly were not. The campaign for the public option pushed the entire debate to the left--and, to use a military metaphor, it diverted enemy fire away from the rest of the bill. If Lieberman and his allies didn't have the public option to attack, they would have tried to gut the subsidies, the exchanges, or some other key element. They would have hacked away at the bill, until it left more people uninsured and more people under-insured. The public option is the reason that didn't happen."
  • High Expectations Reflect Rise of Left  Mother Jones's Kevin Drum talks tough. "[L]iberals who now want to pick up their toys and hand reform its sixth defeat in the past century need to wake up and smell the decaf.  Politics sucks.  It always has.  But the bill in front of us—messy, incomplete, and replete with bribes to every interest group imaginable—is still well worth passing," he writes. "Ten years ago this bill would have seemed a godsend.  The fact that it doesn't now is a reflection of higher aspirations from the left, and that's great.  It demonstrates a resurgence of liberalism that's long overdue.  But this is still a huge achievement that will benefits tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.