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How the Public Option Can Be Saved

If the politics behind the healthcare bill, and the current tide of resentment against Dennis Kucinich for being the public option’s last holdout leave you a bit mystified, Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher might be able to help you out.

Talking with Ian Masters on his Sunday show, “Background Briefing,” she laid out the political landscape, sketching in the minefields awaiting the bill on both the left and the right:

JANE HAMSHER: Having Republicans go on the road and say, “Hey, the government’s going to force you to pay 8% of your income to the private insurance company that you hate, and then the IRS is going to come and collect penalties from you if you don’t.” That’s the killer on that side. And on the progressive side it’s the Choice stuff. . . . The White House has made the decision that they want to go for broke on this one. And they may very well lose the House over it in the Fall.

She noted that the bill’s most important flaw, however, goes back to its lack of a public option:

JANE HAMSHER: The public likes the public option. They thought it was a safeguard against insurance companies having unprotected monopolies and the ability to collect money from people without limit. . . . They raised the rate 30% last year in California . . . they could do it again next year. There’s nothing in this bill that stops them from doing that. They could keep doing that forever. The safeguard was supposed to be the check with the public option. . . . Once that got take out, that was scary to people. . . . This bill is not popular with the American people right now.

She also excoriated the Obama administration for caving even before they had begun:

JANE HAMSHER: When they said, “We want Republicans to join us on this.” That wasn’t even code. That was, “We’re not going to have a Public Option.” Cause no Republican would vote for one. . . . Now we’re getting a bill that doesn’t have one, and it’s ripping the party apart at its guts.

Worse, as she said on her own site, the administration has been using Democrats for cannon fodder in its almost hopeless charge to pass this bill.

While the Obama administration came in for criticism, Hamsher had even tougher words for liberals who abandoned Kucinich—and went back on their pledges to support the public option:

JANE HAMSHER: I find it odd that when it’s down to Joe Lieberman’s one vote everybody shrugs their shoulders and says, “Oh well, we just have to write the bill that Joe wants and give it to him, ‘cause what can you do? One vote.” And when it’s Dennis Kucinich’s one vote that represents what 80% of the American people want, it’s “Oh, let’s crush Dennis Kucinich so that we can give Joe Lieberman everything he wants.” Somehow the argument keeps switching to make sure that the sort of “correct” deal that the White House did with the pharmaceutical companies gets passed no matter what.

As Hamsher sees it, Kucinich is not being obstructionist; he is doing the job the voters elected to do:

JANE HAMSHER: I think Dennis is doing the exact right thing. This is what he’s supposed to be doing at this point in time. He’s representing what the rest of the country. He’s doing what politicians are supposed to do. And the shocking thing is that the liberal infrastructure is lining up for doing what THEY said should be done last year. We ALL ran a campaign when sixty-five members of Congress said that they would vote against a bill that doesn’t have a public option. ALL of us, MoveOn on down, did a fundraiser for these people who signed this letter. We raised four hundred and thirty thousand dollars, including Dennis Kucinich. So now Dennis Kucinich is doing it, and they’re trying to crush him? That is incoherent.

Looking further afield, Hamsher predicted that passage of the bill not only would not save the Democratic Party in the fall, its repercussions might go even further. And the White House should take responsibility:

JANE HAMSHER: If you write a crappy bill, you can’t say, “My presidency is on the line if you don’t pass it.” . . . You wrote the bill. It’s bad. People don’t like it. They don’t want to sacrifice their political careers.

Worst of all, progressives have been asked to trade their positions on a cornerstone issue such as Choice only to lose both the victories of the past and the potential for something better in the future:

JANE HAMSHER: You go into those swing districts that we’re supposed to care so much about. You know, the reason we gave up Choice because we need Democrats in Republican districts? We’re getting ready to throw them to the dogs, and completely decimate the Democratic Party by passing this bill. It doesn’t make any sense. And we’re only doing it because this is the bill that the White House wrote; these are the deals that they cut.

What then can be done? Is all lost? Not according to Jane Hamsher. There is still time to put the pressure on representatives and let them know that the electorate will stand behind them if they stand up for what the public wants:

JANE HAMSHER: If [you] have a representative out there who claims to be pro-Choice, [then] call and ask him, “How can you possibly vote for this bill? How are we doing this on the backs of a woman’s right to choose? Because that is what this bill is.

Hear Ian Masters Monday through Thursday at 5 PM (Pacific Time) and Sundays at 11 AM (Pacific Time) . You can get it streaming live here.

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Ian Masters

Ian Masters

Ian Masters is a broadcast journalist, commentator, author, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. He is the host of "Background Briefing" and "Daily Briefing" radio programs which cover national politics, foreign policy and national security issues, heard on KPFK 90.7 FM - Pacifica public for Southern California Sunday's 11 AM to 1 PM and Monday to Thursday 5 PM to 6 PM. He hosts the UCLA/Hammer Forum which features timely subjects with thought-provoking guests addressing current social and political issues.