Once it became clear that there were not 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster of health insurance reform, President Obama could have asked Majority Leader Reid to do either of these things:
- Work with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and put in a trigger on the public option. OR...
- Work with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D-Connecticut) and remove the public option from the bill entirely.
President Obama chose to pressure Sen. Reid to work with Lieberman and completely eliminate the public option, rather than accepting Snowe's offer to support a bill with a triggered public option.
Why did the president choose Lieberman over Snowe? At face value, it appears absurd:
-- Obama has always desired bipartisanship (some would say this is a fetish of his). Therefore, one would think he would have chosen the option of getting a bona fide Republican vote to overcome the filibuster, rather than an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
-- Obama campaigned for health care reform with a public option, and he has given speeches since becoming president in which he has continued to promote the idea that a public option would be a good idea. Therefore, one would think he would have chosen the option of changing the Senate bill to have a potentially triggered public option, as Snowe would have voted for, rather than no public option at all, as Lieberman demanded.
-- If the Senate bill had at least retained a trigger for a public option, there would not be as much hue and cry from the progressive Democratic base as there is now that the bill has no public option at all. Sure, we would have been disappointed with the trigger, but many of us expected that a bill with a triggered public option was likely to emerge from the Senate, and that perhaps it would be improved in conference with the House. The idea that a bill with not even the possibility of a public option being triggered in the future would emerge as the final Senate bill, to be "ping ponged" to the House (rubber stamped) without a conference negotiation process, was beyond the pale.
-- Furthermore, the fact that Obama pressured Reid to go after Lieberman's vote specifically, and do whatever is necessary to win his support for the bill, has intensified the base's anger even more, because Lieberman is the most hated politician among progressive Democrats. Going after Snowe's vote would not have caused anywhere near the same level of sheer outrage and gut-wrenching disgust among progressives than choosing to seek Lieberman's vote has done.
I cannot draw any other rational conclusion from this evidence other than that Barack Obama never really supported a public option; or that at some point, perhaps after becoming president, he changed his mind and decided not to support a public option anymore but tepidly pretended he still supported it in occasional speeches on health care reform, knowing that in the end he would make sure it didn't make it into the final bill that's signed into law.
Is there any other possibility that makes sense? President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are suffering politically as a result of choosing to accept Joe Lieberman's demand for no public option at all instead of Olympia Snowe's demand for a triggered public option. To get their 60th vote to end the filibuster, they needed one or the other of those two Senators. They chose to bend over backwards for the one that their own party's base hates the most; the one who is not a Republican so they can't claim true bipartisanship; and the one whose proposal was less progressive.
What does this say about Barack Obama and his views on health care reform? I think it says that he either never really was on our side or he decided at some point to switch sides, abandoning a progressive position. If so, I find this very discouraging and it bodes ill for the future of his presidency and for the relationship between the progressive base and the Democratic Party as long as Barack Obama is president.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Many people are saying in the comments that Obama picked Lieberman because Snowe wanted more time for deliberation on the bill, and Obama wants a bill passed quickly. That sounds like a reasonable explanation, but if it's true, then it raises a different question about Obama: Does he care more about getting "legislative notches on his belt" as quickly as possible than the quality of the bills that get passed? Something like a massive health care reform bill might really need more time to be debated, as Snowe wanted. I actually think she had a point.