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Liberals Help Rahm and Blue Dogs Off the Hook With “Opt-Out”

I’m getting letters like this:

I’m both a veteran and critic of the Iraq War, and a staunch supporter of health-care reform. I have a question regarding possible amendments to the Baucus Bill currently being considered.

I’ve heard that legislators are considering a public-option "opt-out" measure that would allow states to reject a national public health-care system. Democrats and Republicans alike are hailing this as the only "real" way to push reform through. Now, our beloved Blue Dogs (among them my own representative, Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick) may love this, but I’m dubious. I’m a veteran who’s seen the good that "socialized" systems like TriCare can achieve, and anything less, to me, seems like a bone thrown to Big Insurance.

Where does your site stand on the "opt-out?" Are there any good sources of information on this measure? What’s to say that dyed-in-the-wool Red states such as my own won’t simply refuse to take part in a public option, thereby leaving constituents like myself out in the cold, unable to afford decent care? And why should my state get to decide whether or not my wife gets coverage for her pre-existing conditions?

That’s a very good question. First of all, while there are a lot of different voices on this site who are free to speak for themselves, but the consensus of those of us regularly covering health care that the "opt-out" is bullshit. It’s nothing but an escape hatch for a White House that has bungled health care up until now, a political exercise supported by those who want to deliver themselves from the mess they’ve made. Its supporters say that it will help them get the "60 votes" they need for the public option, which is curious because these people generally understand that the 60 vote threshold is for cloture. Not one single Senator in the Democratic caucus — not even Joe Lieberman — has said that they will join a Republican filibuster. Not one. And even Schumer himself says there are 54-56 votes for a public option, a comfortable majority for an up-or-down vote. They’ve never been able to produce 10 members of the caucus who say they will vote against one.

Jon Walker estimates that 51% of the population live in states that have GOP governors, GOP legislatures or both. Proponents of the "opt-out" say that they’ll never have the guts to do it, and point to the fun we’ll have watching them try. As evidence, they’re harumphing about the fact that, in the end, no state turned down the stimulus money–which is so far away from being an apt comparison, it’s laughable. The stimulus money was free money — the "opt out" simply removes an option from the state exchange that would compete with private industry. I could get rich in a heartbeat running campaigns in states like yours to get them to "opt out." It’s complex, difficult to understand, won’t kick in till 2013 anyway and easily subject to demagoguery. The party that brought you "death panels" will have no problem taking big checks to get rid of it, and they’ll probably have a lot of help from the other side of the aisle.

The big winner of the "opt-out" is Rahm Emanuel, who painted himself into a corner on health care. As Chris Hayes notes, liberal "veal pen" institutions were so busy taking dictation from him they didn’t communicate the fact that the Democratic base was really, really attached to the public option, and he assumed that everyone would just "suck it up" like the had the war supplemental and ACES. Now that the Senate has to come up with a bill, and advocates have been successful in making it extremely uncomfortable to ditch the public option, Rahm is desperate to fulfill the promises he made to deliver a bill without one. He whipped Blue Dog votes in the House by promising them there would be no public option in the final bill, and now that they have boatloads of health care lobbying money to make sure there isn’t one, they’re looking to him to make good on that.

So who comes to the rescue? Who charges in and suddenly decides that rather than force the issue and put the White House in the awkward position of either producing Democratic Senators willing to join a Republican filibuster or bring the public option in the HELP bill to the floor, they should be let off the hook?

Well, that would be the liberals, who quickly fanned out to let us know that it was okay to play Russian roulette with the health care of people like your wife who live in red states because it puts Rick Perry in an uncomfortable position. The people who have been clamoring about all the hideous things the GOP has done to health care suddenly step up and offer Rahm the escape hatch he’s been looking for. Because even Tom Carper — who apparently came up with this "solution" — doesn’t want to talk about it.

Democrats once again are negotiating with themselves. And who pays the price for this convenient piece of political calculus if they turn out to be wrong and insurance industry money is successful in getting red states like yours to opt out of a public option? Well, Rikyrah over at Jack & Jill Politics gives us a pretty good idea.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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