Note to Obama on health care: Forget bipartisanship – they don’t want you to win

By Kate Jacob

Copy Editor

With control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, you would think that the Democrats could do almost anything. But the fight to produce meaningful health care reform is being pitted against powerful interests. Among other things, these interests are trying to derail the plan for a strong public option to compete with private insurance plans.

The Washington Post reports that the health care industry is spending $1.4 million per day to defeat health care reform – their aim:  to minimize damage while maximizing the money-making potential of 46 million uninsured Americans mandated by the plan to purchase insurance from them.

The health care industry is throwing money at democratic legislators like the Blue Dogs in the House and senators like Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance committee, who can influence the debate and have opposed President Obama on the public option.

A group of six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats  from the Finance committee, lead by Baucus, is working on legislation which, it is rumored, will not contain a public option, in spite of the fact that Obama said that a public option is necessary to compete with private plans and “keep them honest.”

The health care industry also has a seat at the table in negotiations about health care reform with the White House. Recently it was revealed in the L.A. Times and confirmed by the White House that they had committed to a “behind-the-scenes” deal with the pharmaceutical industry whereby  the requirement  to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and to import cheaper drugs from Canada would be dropped from the health care reform bill coming out of the Finance Committee in exchange for a promise from  the pharmaceutical industry to decrease costs by $80 billion over 10 years to help pay for health care reform.

In an article by Norman Solomon at The Huffington Post, John Geyman, professor emeritus for family medicine at the University of Washington, said, “Under pressure from industry and their lobbyists, the public plan has been watered down to a small and ineffectual option at best, if it ever survives to being enacted.”

Republicans in Congress see the fight against health care reform as a chance to take down the Obama presidency.

Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C., in a phone call for “tea party” participants organized by Conservatives for Patients Rights, a $20 million dollar operation created by Richard Scott, former CEO of Hospital Corporation of America, to campaign against the public option, said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

(In 1997, by the way, three HCA executives were indicted for Medicare fraud. In 2000, HCA pleaded guilty to at least 14 felonies and over the next two years paid $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines.)

House Republican Leader John Boehner and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter issued a joint statement saying that the House Democratic health care legislation promoted euthanasia for seniors and Congresswoman Virginia Scott, R-N.C., said on the House floor that the bill would “force seniors to be put to death by their government.”

In August, while Congress is in recess and legislators return to their home districts to discuss health care reform with constituents, anti-health reform forces are fomenting (and backing) Astroturf (phony grassroots) disruptions at town hall meetings to prevent legislators who support health care reform from being heard. (You can see video here of Astroturf disruptions and Keith Olbermann discussing mob mentality with Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell).

It has been suggested that Obama, remembering what happened to the Clintons when they tried to introduce health care reform, decided to allow Congress to come up with health care legislation while he remained more or less on the sidelines. He has called for a bipartisan bill but in trying to get a bill that will allow a few Republicans to come on board, for the sake of being able to say it is bipartisan, he may weaken the legislation to the extent that it will not produce meaningful change in a system that is essentially broken and crying for reform.

Recent polling shows Obama’s approval rate dropping.  A Quinnipiac Poll from August 6 found 52 percent disapproved of his handling of health care while only 39 percent approved. Not surprising when polling, here and here, also reveals that a majority of Americans want health care reform.

Obama could to put a stop to all of this by stating loudly and clearly exactly what he believes.

Specifically, that health care reform without a public option is not an option.

Hopefully that is what he believes. Unfortunately, in recent speeches he has refrained from insisting that the public option must be part of health care reform.

Columnist Frank Rich asked in Sunday’s New York Times opinion piece, “Is Obama Punking us?”

Hopefully he isn’t.