Why Obama Dropped the Public Option

It's died many deaths, but only now at the president's hands

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We've heard many times that the public option was either politically dead or making a resurgence. But on Wednesday, the eve of President Obama's bipartisan health care summit, bad news is coming for public-option backers. The White House is making it clear that they are not pursuing it, owing to insufficient support in the Senate for passing it via reconciliation. This is an unusually strong stance against the public option by the White House, which has worked hard to remain above the fray until now. Why is Obama giving it up?

  • Obama's Leadership Failure The Washington Post's Ezra Klein rebukes Obama's refusal to take a big stand on the public option. "This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can't simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now." He adds, "The problem isn't just that the White House is following, but that they're making it harder to eventually lead." Klein later writes that Obama appears to have decided to lead away from the public option.
  • White House Sees It as 'Distraction' The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains. "On background, the White House might say that the public option is a distraction," he writes. "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."
  • It Never Had Senate's Support  Nate Silver says Obama didn't kill it because it was already dead. "In August, a whip count on the public option showed only 43 firm yes votes, one of which was Senator Kennedy," he writes. "And these totals reflected how Senators claim they would have voted if the public option were considered under regular order -- not under reconciliation, which is the process in play now. You might have to subtract some additional votes from among those Senators who are either opposed using reconciliation for health care in general, or opposed to including a public option in a reconciliation package specifically."
  • Courting House Blue Dogs The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen suspects the public option was dropped to appease the conservative Democrats in the House, who oppose the public option. The House must vote on health care again, and given how close the last vote was, Obama will need every "yes" he can get.
  • Obama Could Have Secured It The Washington Post's Greg Sargent scratches his head. "It's unclear why [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs is deciding in advance that there isn't enough support to pass this idea. Momentum has been gathering for days. It's also very likely that it would continue to gain steam if Obama racks up a victory at the summit and Dems press forward with plans to pass reform themselves via reconciliation. But Gibbs's statement seems likely, willfully or not, to slow that momentum in advance."
  • Obama Only Pretended To Support It In The New York Times, Glenn Greenwald suspects the worst. "It now seems obvious that White House's claim of support for the public option was a pretense used to placate the progressive base," he writes. "But it seems clear that the filibuster is a convenient excuse Democrats use to justify their inaction (we'd like to pass it but can't because, sadly, we just don't have 60 votes). As the health care debacle demonstrates, even with that obstacle removed, the White House still refuse to push for progressive provisions."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.