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Obama: I Didn’t Campaign On Public Option

President Obama has been deployed to rebut criticisms, from the right and the left, about the Senate’s health care bill. He says that “every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill,” which seems wrong on several key points. But the more remarkable claim is this one, where Obama says he never campaigned on the public option:

He said the Senate legislation accomplishes “95 percent” of what he called for during his 2008 presidential campaign and in his September speech to a joint session of Congress on the need for health-care reform […]

Obama said the public option “has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right.” But, he added, “I didn’t campaign on the public option.”

“We don’t feel that the core elements to help the American people have been compromised in any significant way,” Obama said. “Do these pieces of legislation have exactly everything I want? Of course not. But they have the things that are necessary to reduce costs for businesses, families and the government.”

I guess it depends on the meaning of the word “campaign.” Because the public option was clearly part of the President’s health care plan. He signed on to the HCAN principles during the campaign. His white paper on health care included a public option. The set of principles, including a public option, are on the Obama campaign website. Plenty of media reports noted that the Obama plan had a public option. Obama talked up the public option in this candidate questionnaire on the website of The Washington Post:

Every American has the right to affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage. My plan will ensure that all Americans have health care coverage through their employers, private health plans, the federal government, or the states. My plan builds on and improves our current insurance system, which most Americans continue to rely upon, and creates a new public health plan for those currently without coverage. Under my plan, Americans will be able to choose to maintain their current coverage if they choose to. For those without health insurance I will establish a new public insurance program, and provide subsides to afford care for those who need them. My plan includes a mandate that all children have health care coverage and I will expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs to help ensure we cover all kids. My plan requires all employers to contribute towards health coverage for their employees or towards the cost of the public plan. Under my plan a typical family will save $2,500 each year. We will realize tremendous savings within the health care system from improving efficiency and quality and reducing wasted expenditures system-wide. Specifically, these savings will result from investments in health information technology, improvements in prevention and management of chronic conditions, increased insurance industry competition and reduced industry overhead, the provision of federal reinsurance for catastrophic coverage, and reduced spending on uncompensated care.

Even if you agree with Obama that he did not “campaign” for a public option during the campaign, which I assume means that he did not actively talk about it in speeches, he most certainly campaigned for it multiple times while President, including in his address to Congress in September. If it wasn’t important and wasn’t featured in his health care plan, he didn’t have to bring it up while President.

This just seems like the worst kind of revisionist history.

UPDATE: Think Progress picks up the story and notes how many times Obama publicly spoke out for a public option while President, and then refusing to push for it internally in the final days.

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David Dayen

David Dayen