I have never been particularly sanguine that congressional Democrats would ultimately vote against Obama on health care if it didn't contain a public option and I'm not even sure how many people in the progressive coalition would want them to. Unless it was a cave of such massive proportions that it was essentially a Republican wet dream (expanding health savings accounts and nothing else, for instance)I figured they would feel they have to vote for a bill that substantially expanded coverage and regulated the excesses of the insurance industry, even if it was less than what they'd wanted. My feeling has been that for progressives, something like a public plan, while important, doesn't ground itself in principle enough to trump a serious move to universality --- and loyalty to a new president of their own party.
This is not to say that I don't think it was absolutely necessary to push hard for the public plan, as they have done and continue to do. But contrary to conventional wisdom, in in my mind the calculation was to give cover to Obama with the media and among the centrists to do what he (hopefully) already wanted to do. If Obama actually puts his weight behind a real public plan then we won't have to find out if I'm right.
But that doesn't mean that they will never vote to defeat their president. In fact, I believe it could happen on at least two important upcoming issues on the agenda: financial reform and the war. The first will take a huge push from the left, and may very well be unsuccessful because it's an arcane subject and many of those who should be on the right side are either personally compromised or unmoved by the issue. But this one has the possibility at least of having a sort of inverse NAFTA dynamic in which conservative Republicans vote with progressives and it could be very powerful. But regardless, that's a fight that should be waged and there are some good leaders on the issue, one of whom is Alan Grayson who could emerge as an important progressive figure if this issue gets the play it should:
The issue of the war is even more clear cut. Nancy Pelosi said that the war supplemental bill was a much harder vote than health care and I believe her. And that's because for progressives, voting against expanding the war isn't difficult on the merits at all --- the only thing that brings them to the table is the president twisting their arm in a very ruthless way. That's an entirely different dynamic and could make for a very ugly fight, particularly with the war rapidly losing support even among Republicans.
If President Obama asks for more troops to send to Afghanistan, he could be rebuffed by Democrats in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Thursday that such a request would not be well received.
“I don't think there's much support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress,” Pelosi said.
On the heels of the deadliest month to date for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, liberals lawmakers are bracing for a report being reviewed by top military commanders that is expected to suggest more resources and troops are needed.
Many of the liberal Democratic lawmakers who led the fight against the Iraq war are now opposing the buildup in Afghanistan, and promising to fight funding for it.
I should hope so. And that's an issue on which I think we can and should expect them to hold the line all the way to a no vote, no matter how much their president tries to get them to hold the line. Ending this constant war escalation is a fundamental progressive imperative on the merits and on the politics. Obama won the nomination largely because he differentiated himself from Clinton on his Iraq vote -- and progressives didn't expect him to start escalating the Afghanistan war like he's Robert McNamara Jr. This one is going to be a hairy fight and well it should be.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting that they shouldn't continue to agitate for the public plan, I'm just setting forth my own opinion that if it comes down to it, they won't vote against a health care reform bill simply because it doesn't contain a public plan. It's dissonant and odd to think they would be the ones to ultimately tank a big expansion of the safety net, no matter how imperfect, and I think the chances of them doing it are virtually nil. But their strong advocacy for it has undoubtedly extracted a better bill than would have already been there and they are learning how to become a real caucus that works together as a bloc. So, it's been a worthwhile endeavor.
It's time for all of us to accept that the president holds the cards at this point --- and that the progressives are probably already girding for the next big fight. That fight is likely to be something that is much more clear cut and easily defined than a cost control measure called a "public plan" --- and I think the current fight has ensured that the caucus is in a much better position to wage it than they were six months ago.
Update: To those who are going into complete hysterics because they obviously cannot tell the difference between analysis and advocacy --- calm down and read very slowly and with comprehension.
I'm for the public plan. I've written endless posts agitating for it. I believe in it. This piece is merely an analysis of what I see as the end game, which I still believe may very well contain a public plan! My God, you'd think I just ran up the white flag Little Big Horn.
I just believe that passage of a final bill with a public plan rests on President Barack Obama. I still don't know what he's willing to go to the mat for (except refusing to add to the deficit.) But I do know that unless he is willing to go to the mat for the public plan, it isn't happening no matter how much liberals scream and yell. And that leaves us with the unlikely prospect of them voting against the whole enchilada if it doesn't contain one. I'm sorry that analysis disturbs some of you, but that doesn't make me Max Baucus, ferchistsake. Maybe Baucus thinks he can make Obama do what he wants him to do, but I think the president has enough to juice to make this happen if he wants itbadly enough.
I'm not endorsing liberals voting for the reform without the public plan. I'm analyzing and observing the situation and telling you what I see. Neither the president or the progressive caucus are waiting for instructions from me about what to do next, so everyone can relax about my "capitulation." I don't actually get a vote on this bill.
It's my view that the content of health care reform has always depended upon what Obama himself was willing to fight for. It's a decades long liberal dream to expand the social safety net that takes Presidential leadership and political capital to pull off. Believing that liberals will walk away from both him and the reform itself on the basis of this one piece of it isn't very likely. Better hope Obama wants it as much as they (we) do.
The war and financial reform are different issues with different dynamics entirely, based on different principles. I don't think they play out the same way.
If you don't like my analysis, fine. But please refrain from calling me a sellout for merely observing what I see around me, particularly when it's clear that many of you who are doing it didn't read the post carefully.