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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

The Public Option, and Why Letting It Snowe Is Foolish

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The debate over health care has had its share of strange issues. But one has been stranger than the others - which is saying a lot, considering the lunacy of these others.

For example, claiming that the Administration wants to kill its senior citizens is certainly a classic. (I was going to say "golden oldie," but didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea.)

Watching tea baggers turn on their own, eating conservatives like Lindsey Graham, that was another bit of odd street theater.

My personal favorite has been the convoluted twisting of illogic as conservatives have attempted to claim out of one side of their mouths that a public option was bad because the government is too incompetent to run anything - while out of the other side insisting that the government is just too good and would be uncompetitive. Even Lewis Carroll wouldn't have attempted writing jabberwocky this contradictory in Wonderland.

But the biggest lunacy has been the Herculean effort to reach the magic number of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, in order to show bipartisan support. That attempt appears to be over, almost, but there's still a lot of dancing going on. And look at what shenanigans it took to get us here.

(To be clear, I understand getting 60 votes to block a Republican filibuster, but that's another matter. Close, related, but different.)

Mind you, I understand the desire to have bipartisan support. In a perfect world, showing the nation that not only Democrats but also Republicans are concerned about the public's health and both want to provide the choice of a public option that 77% of the country has said it's in favor of. But this is not a perfect world (if it were, the Chicago Cubs wouldn't have gone 101 years without winning the World Series). So, trying to get one Republican senator, not inclined to vote your way, to vote your way and dismantling the desired result in the process is an exercise in pointlessness.

But let's say Olympia Snowe did vote for a health care bill. In what universe does anyone think the America public would suddenly view health care as "bipartisan." Because of one vote?? That one vote wouldn't show bipartisanship, it would shine a beacon on the imbalance.

The public understands that the Republicans are against the health care bill. They understand this not because of grasping political subtleties - but because Republicans have said so. Republicans have said - literally - that it was not in their interest to pass a health care bill. In every instance in the House, Republicans have voted zero for health care. Zero. So, if somehow there was actually one, single, lone Republican vote for health care (or, let's dream of miracles, two!), the public wouldn't leap up and say, "Oh, my, it's bipartisan!!" They know Republicans are against a health care bill, and Democrats are pushing it. Know it.

Republicans are against a health care bill. We Get It.

Yet there is a greater reason why this pursuit of one, lone Republican vote - and even any Blue Dog Democrat votes - is lunatic in the hopes of "bipartisanship," all at the expense of watering down the choice of a public option that almost all Democrats in Congress want, the nationally-elected Administration wants - and 77% of America wants.

Why is it lunatic? Let's answer it with some questions.

What was the vote in Congress when it passed Social Security?

Do you care?

What was the vote in the Senate and House that passed Medicare?

Does the answer matter to you?

What were the vote totals that passed the Civil Rights bill?

Are you glad that it passed?

Do you think most Americans are thrilled that all of these bills passed? Do you think there would be national outrage if any of them were revoked? Does it make even the slightest different to you today whether the original votes were bipartisan or not?

Democrats in the Senate and House have been saying that health care and a public option are critical for the American public and for the nation's economic strength. The White House has been saying it, too - that health care and a public option are critical for America's health and the nation's economy.

It doesn't matter one single whit if - today - there is bipartisan support for a health bill. It would be nice. But It Doesn't Matter. If a strong health care bill is as critical as the House, Senate, White House - and American public - say it is, then what matters is passing it in as strong a form as possible. And not gutting it for the sake of one, empty Republican vote.

If Republicans want to be on record against health care, let them. Let them run on that record.

Let Democrats be the party of health care.

When you're facing crushing medical bills. When you're facing being unable to afford any health care. When you're facing catastrophic illness. When you're facing financial ruin. When you're facing death:

You don't care about bipartisanship. You care about health care.

History shows us that no one will care about bipartisanship. They never do. They care that people saw what was necessary and acted on it. For the public good, for now and forever.