Dem Senator: Public option is dead; Update: Sebelius video added

posted at 12:30 pm on August 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

If Barack Obama hoped to rescue his vision of a health-care system overhaul with his wan effort in the New York Times, a key member of the Senate Democratic Caucus threw a bucket of cold water on those hopes this morning.  Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) told a television audience that the pursuit of a public option for coverage was a “wasted effort” that would kill any hope of passage in the upper chamber.  Obama, said Conrad, should exercise more humility in approaching a government role in American health care — and even Obama’s key Cabinet member agrees:

“Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the U.S. Senate for the public option, there never have been,” Conrad said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”

“So to continue to chase that rabbit is, I think, a wasted effort,” Conrad said.

His comments followed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s remark that a public option is “not the essential element” to ensure competition in the health insurance market. Sebelius made the remark on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

A public option is included in legislation moving through the House, and is backed by liberals, who would feel betrayed if it is not a part of a final bill. They see a public insurance plan as critical to ensure that private insurance companies offer coverage and lower costs.

Sebelius signaled a big shift in the White House position today.  It looks as though Barack Obama may have realized that the failure to get the bill finished before the summer recess has killed the Trojan horse through which the White House hoped to accomplish the nationalization of health care. It sounds as though Obama wants to alert Democrats at town-hall meetings to stop defending the public option and expect to see it removed from the bills when Congress returns in September.

Conrad’s abandonment of the public option underscores the necessity of the shift.  Conrad comes from a red state with a high degree of populism, which might have been expected to back ObamaCare and the public option.  It hasn’t worked out that way when Democrats went home to visit constituents.  Not only have red-state voters become passionately opposed to government takeover of health care, but independents and even some liberal districts have seen a high degree of anger and fear of losing a system that works for most Americans.  When opponents of ObamaCare get cheers in townhall meetings with Rep. Keith Ellison in one of the most liberal districts in America, MN-05, we know that advocates have something to fear from voter backlash in 2010.

The big question will be whether liberal Democrats will allow anything to pass without a public option.  Three weeks ago, I would have said that Democrats would have passed anything to allow Obama to escape this trap while saving face.  I’m not sure that’s possible any longer.  The biggest threat now would be that both the Senate and the House might pass separate bills without public options, and then have it restored in conference committee.  This is no time to get complacent.

Update: Politico has the video clip of Sebelius gently retreating from the public option:

A White House aide said in an e-mailed statement Sunday afternoon that “nothing has changed” in the administration’s approach.

“The president has always said that what is essential is that health insurance reform must lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and it must increase choice and competition in the health insurance market,” said Linda Douglass, communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform. “He believes the public option is the best way to achieve those goals.

But taken together, the remarks from Obama, Sebelius and Conrad suggest the White House is preparing supporters for a health care compromise that may well exclude the government option — which could help Obama win enough votes for a sweeping overhaul but touch off a nasty battle inside his own party between liberals and more moderate members who have resisted a bigger government role in health care.

Pass the popcorn, and expect this to get nasty on the Left.

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But wait, now the WH who said they were never for a Public Option is now disavowing Sebelius’ statement from yesterday.

You can’t even use a calendar for the expiration on their promises, you need a stop watch.

barnone on August 17, 2009 at 10:19 AM

Oh, yea; repackaging and painting a different color will make it all better.
These Obama soldiers will stop at nothing to get this abortion of liberty passed.
This legislation(?) will empower these madmen and women with the limitless power they have been trying to assume for decades. These people want nothing but power over every aspect of the freedom of the people.
This power can only be overcome by the power of the government granted to them in war time. And once it has been turned over to these lunatics, the people will never get it back.
Obama has already stated that the Constitution and The Bill of Rights is an unnecessary restriction on the power of the federal government; And he has been on the campaign trail repackaging, and in any terms that will coerce and cajole, renaming the details of the health care legislation, to sway opinion that will accept this monstrosity.
This Congress and the President and all his advisors and czars are an evil force that is not going to go away without a persistent battle. In my opinion, it’s like having Al Queda in the White House, and the Taliban in Congress. They must be defeated.

Cybergeezer on August 17, 2009 at 10:25 AM

We need to run with the administration’s inconsistency and their apparent inability to stay on message. The Obama administration has shown a serious credibility vulnerability that the republicans, FNC and the right needs to exploit in THIS news cycle—right now—today:

We now see a pattern: first Biden had “misspoken” when he said people shouldn’t go on vacation or on trains because of the swine flu. Then administration officials had “misspoken” about the projected “saved or created” job creation potential of the Porkulus. Then Obama himself had “misspoken” when he lied on National Television about AARP’s support of this disaster of a healthcare bill. Then they admit that some “third parties” had “misspoken” and breached the privacy of hundreds of private citizens when Axelrod blasted his astroturf call.

On the first weekend that the president goes on vacation we have a powerful combination of the administration admitting a breach of faith with their own base and then yet another attempt to pull their hand out of the cookie jar by insisting that not one but SEVERAL leading administration representatives had all “misspoken” about their spinelessness on National Television.

Everyone on the right needs to exploit this opening MERCILESSLY during this news cycle. Absolutely everyone. This administration has now shown how flimsy and irretrievably damaged HR3200 in the eyes of its chief sponsors and we need to press home the fact about how both the left and right have become unhappy with it. We need to press home how even the president’s far left base has become embittered about this plan.

We need to make it abundantly clear that this bill is rapidly becoming an orphan in the chambers of congress and the only folks sponsoring are the hapless constantly-misspeaking amateurs in the white house.

Not ONLY is it an opportunity to kill HR3200 and kill it permanently, but it’s an opportunity to hold the president to task for his repeated campaign promises of “holding the negotiations on CSPAN”. It’s an opportunity to expose the cynicism and petty opportunism that went into the exhorbitant pork spending in the stimulus, the 3AM amendments in cap and trade and the vicious “rahm-it-through” mentality of the Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal.

Best of all, we can introduce GENUINE free-market based healthcare reform that’s based on individual responsibility and sound fiscal policy. The republicans can lead with the GOP’s healthcare proposals that (thanks to the MSM) most folks aren’t aware even EXIST. While we expose the Administrations credibility collapse we can introduce sound and PROVEN free-market alternatives that have reduced cost, improved quality of care and empowered individual choice and responsibility all at the same time.

Behold Waterloo! If we press hard on this while the administration is unbalanced (and out of town) it really COULD mean the death of this bill. Yes, we CAN kill HR3200.

Khorum on August 17, 2009 at 10:32 AM

Aren’t train wrecks fascinating to watch?

ChristianRock on August 17, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Will Linda Douglass do a video debunking Kathleen Sebilius’ myth?

hawksruleva on August 17, 2009 at 11:12 AM

She needs to do a video explaining why Obama shut down her little white house snitching department.

Khorum on August 17, 2009 at 11:18 AM

the public option isn’t an evil thing so long as measures are put in place to guarantee private insurance, too.
how do i know this? i live in a european country that has the public option in addition to private insurance. in this country, anyone earning over 48,000 euros can only be privately insured. the public option is simply not available. and for the public option, people must STILL pay for their health insurance. they pay a percentage of their pay-check OR welfare to their insurance company. yes, their are private companies that sell the public insurance option, and than the private companies get reimbursed from the gov’t is my understanding (please, correct me if i’m wrong!!! i still don’t have a firm grasp on the language and therefor, unable to fully translate).

private insurance, not surprisingly, is more affordable the more one makes because you are paying directly for a commodity that competition in the private market provides. my wife and i figured out that the more money we make, the more we would pay for public insurance than equivalent, or better, private insurance. however, the public option is a good deal for those on welfare or not earning a “living wage.” but the stimulus to get off of public insurance is there by making public insurance TOO expensive the more you make. that makes people want to go to private insurance. add the fact that appointments with a specialist are much easier to get and private insurance is a booming business.

the only downside is, non-income taxes are extremely high. the vat is a whopping 19%. it generates a huge amount of money. the gov’t understands the public insurance option / falling fertility rate / less future tax-payers ratio and is trying to address that.

good luck america!!! i hope you get it right or not at all. p.s. even though a congressman’s name appears on H.R 3200, does anyone actually know who wrote all 1,000+ pages? i would be very interested to know the actual authors’ names, backgrounds, and stories.

photoboy74 on August 17, 2009 at 2:19 PM

i would be very interested to know the actual authors’ names, backgrounds, and stories.

photoboy74 on August 17, 2009 at 2:19 PM

remember the SAddam set of playing cards? That’s what we need on this one.

ted c on August 17, 2009 at 2:30 PM