Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fight The Boys in the Backroom on the Public Option

by Norman Markowitz

In the 1960s in a New York political campaign, the winning reform Democrats played an old Marlene Dietrich song," See What the Boys in the backroom will have and tell them I'm having the same," changing the last part to say "tell them you'll have none of the same. " The Boys in
the Backroom of the Senate Finance Committee, led by Boss Baucus, killed the two "public option" parts of the national health legislation, the first and better one proposed by Senator Jay Rockefeller 15-8, (five Democrats and all ten Republicans against eight Democrats) and the second by Senator Charles Schumer by a vote of 13-10).

Now is the time for all of us to bombard our Senators and Congressmen and tell them that we will not let the boys in the backroom in effect kill the legislation that President Obama promised in his campaign and which he still pledges to deliver The great majority of Americans support the public option as they have long supported national health insurance. That really doesn't matter too much as long as that support is registered passively in polls. It also doesn't matter much if those who support Public Option will passively accept what the Boys in the Backroom who are Democrats have done by simply continuing to support them in subsequent elections.

What should done and done now. First we should call upon President Obama to register his displeasure with this vote and restate his support of the public option and call upon all Democrats (including those who supported Baucus yesterday) to support legislation with the public option. The Democratic National Committee should also come forward with clear and open criticism and at the very least an implied warning that those Senate Democrats who have joined Baucus to bury the public option can expect no support from the national party in their re-election campaigns (the tactic that Lyndon Johnson, a crude but effective power politician, used to push Democrats to support social legislation which powerful economic interests opposed).

Obama does not have the majority that Johnson did and he doesn't have the organizational power that Johnson had in the Democratic party, but he has much greater ability to reach masses of people and win their support than Johnson ever did and he can use that ability to go to the people in 2010 by vetoing a bill that has no public option (not to mention a regressive taxing of benefits) and campaign against the profiteering insurance companies the way Franklin Roosevelt successfully campaigned against the "Economic Royalists" and the Supreme Court and
earlier presidents campaigned against the Trusts.

This is in my opinion in both his interest and the national interest, which is the interest of the people, not the corporations, the banks, and the insurance companies. It is and will be argued that any bill must be accepted because no bill will be considered a defeat. But a bill without public option now is objectively a defeat. Saying that public option can be added later goes against what has usually been the pattern of U.S. history--namely that if you don't make progressive breakthroughs rapidly when the opportunity is there, you don't make them. And if you don't make them you lose support among the people eventually, even if you retain political power in the short run.

Right wing Republicans are already muddying the political waters with early campaigns against big government health care, bank bailouts, deficits and taxes. President Obama can seize the initiative by demanding health care legislation with a major public option component and explaining to the people how this is really, short of the elimination of the private insurance companies entirely through a single payer system, the only way to substantially lower health care costs for individuals and society as a whole and raise the quality of care Obama can also make it clear that it is the entire united Republican party which has fought against any public option and put the onus on them in the 20010 elections.

In the 1960s, when reform Democrats used that Marlene Dietrich song to win an election, a civil rights activist, Reverend Eugene Callender joked, "New York has the only real two party system in America. Reform and Regular Democrats." The Senate Finance Committee vote suggests a different and more sinister "two party" system threatening both the Obama administration and peoples movements--a new "conservative coalition" of Republicans and a small number of strategically placed Democrats to bloc progressive initiatives and legislation. If that is not challenged and challenged now, it may very well cripple the Obama administration's ability to break free of the Reagan Bush policies which have brought the nation to the brink of disaster.