Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Public Plan Option: Litmus Tests Are Never a Good Sign

Before now, I can think of only one “litmus test” in American politics—abortion.

That is an issue that simply polarizes the nation—and our political system. On a good day, people on one side or the other just agree to disagree and move on.

But I think we are seeing another litmus test issue emerge—the public health plan option.

I have no doubt that there are not the votes to pass a public plan option in the U.S. Senate. After this recess, I very much doubt there will be the votes to pass it in the House.

If you don’t believe me, listen to the Democratic Budget Chairman, Kent Conrad; "The hard reality is . . . that a public option does not have enough support in the Senate to pass.”

I have also never heard the political dialogue on an issue so strident so late in a debate—coming from both sides.

Neither side gives any indication—even between the lines—they are willing to give on this issue.

I recently saw a news conference held by the Democratic Chairs of the Progressive, Black, and Asian Pacific Caucuses in the House all come up to the microphone and say in the most uncompromising terms they will not ever vote for a health care bill that does not have a robust public plan option. The language was way beyond the normal political posturing.

Needless to say, conservatives won’t have anything to do with a public health plan option. More, they see their opposition as gaining traction and they see no reason to let the Democrats off the hook.

The White House has not been helping either. Way past the point that I would have expected them to begin softening their tone on the issue, getting ready to take what they can get on health care, they continue to be adamant in support.

No one is leaving themselves an escape hatch.

A litmus test for any policy issue is a prescription for a political train wreck.


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