After months of a general hands-off approach in public to members of the Democratic Party who have grumbled and griped about health care reform, the Obama Administration has finally lashed out at one of its own party members for attempting to block the bill.

Not Joe Lieberman, who held up the bill for weeks on the public option.

Not Ben Nelson, who is still threatening a filibuster because of the abortion language.

Not Blanche Lincoln, Jim Webb, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu (who’s on board now), or any of the other Senators who have publicly trashed elements of the bill at various points, parts that the White House claimed to support.

No, the first time they use this tactic is to go after unelected public citizen Howard Dean.

Recently, a somewhat perplexing new line of argument has emerged about health insurance reform, with some folks suggesting the Senate bill is a “dream” for insurance companies.

If that’s the case, though, it must be news to them. The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it. And that’s not surprising, because this bill will finally wrest power away from the insurance industry and put it in the hands of American consumers […]

It’s also important to remember that, while none of us are shedding any tears for the insurance industry, the primary goal of health insurance reform isn’t to punish insurers – it’s to give every American the ability to find affordable coverage while controlling the unsustainable cost growth in our current health care system that is crushing families and businesses. On that front, this bill is hugely successful. This bill will bring stability and security to people who have insurance and provide affordable options to those who don’t. It will protect against arbitrary insurance company rules and will lower premiums for American families and businesses. And it will take a big chunk out of the national deficit.

You can argue about whether the bill does enough to promote sound insurance company practices, and whether the bill will provide affordable coverage for all Americans (I think it’s incredibly arguable). What you cannot argue is that this is virtually the first instance of the White House attacking a prominent Democrat in public. They did not pressure Joe Lieberman to any degree, according to him. They vociferously denied pressuring Ben Nelson over a military base in his state.

But Dean caused the White House great displeasure. Not because he was actively working as a member of the US Senate to undermine what were described as key priorities in the health care bill, but because he was stating his opinion on the legislation after the fact, in a way that could deny the President his “win” on health care.

I’m assuming Russ Feingold is next.

“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”

The President didn’t leverage Democrats working against his stated policy, one has to conclude, because they weren’t working against his policy in any substantive way. They were facilitating it.

David Dayen

David Dayen