11/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Lobby a Blue Dog

Is it time for a new approach in lobbying the Blue Dogs?

The evidence suggests so.

For the past six weeks progressives have been warning conservative Democratic -- and moderate Republican -- legislators that failure for vote for a public insurance option will prove that they are the corrupt and stupid vassals of the evil special interests and that they deserve to be ousted from office in the next election and subsequently rot in hell for eternity.

A forceful argument, especially from those who truly believe it. But apparently not a very successful one. Near as I can tell, not a single one has seen the light and decided to vote for this option. So allow me to suggest something different. The outcome can't be any worse.

Here's my lobbying letter:

Dear Solon Dog,

I write to urge you to vote in favor of including a public insurance option as part of the health reform plan Congress is currently considering. I think it is a key to creating a better system and welcome this opportunity to explain why.

I understand that there are two basic elements in making your choice -- politics and policy -- and would like to address each in turn.

First, the politics. I understand that the public option isn't particularly popular in some Congressional districts at the moment and would welcome the opportunity to help you convince your constituents that it is a positive step. Opposition is organized and this is not a vote to be taken lightly. In that regard, I am not asking you to vote for such a measure unless there's reason to believe that it will ultimately become law. Nothing will be achieved by losing with a slightly greater margin than would otherwise have been the case. We're not talking about sending a message here. The aim is good policy to improve America's health.

I recognize that such a vote will not be easy for you. Opponents will criticize you for it. I will be among those defending you and being supportive in every way possible, however we may differ on other issues that come before this Congress. This is a defining issue that trumps other regional or cultural differences.

The policy argument here is, I believe, fairly clear. Private insurers have not done a terribly good job in recent years and have not been as responsive as they could have been -- or should have been -- to consumer concerns. One aim of this legislation is to make them more responsive by barring them from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions who most need insurance coverage. But that alone is not enough.

Americans of every stripe believe in competition and we need more of it in the health insurance industry. In market after market, a single private insurer dominates. That's not good health policy or good economic policy. Injecting competition from a non-profit plan will help. The good private insurers will adjust and compete. The bad ones will have difficulty. That's the way our free enterprise system is supposed to work.

I know many are suspicious of government programs, believing that they are inherently inefficient. There's a one-word answer to that -- Medicare. It is the nation's biggest health insurance program and its most efficient. It also serves the happiest insured population.
Other health programs, including Tricare and the VA, have a record that matches that of any private firm.

The public plan would merely be one of several options available to all Americans. If no one takes it -- and the experts estimate that only about 10% of Americans would during the first five years -- no harm would be done. If Americans flocked to it, their behavior would push the private insurance industry to be more responsive.

It is an experiment with a positive prognosis and little potential downside.

I hope this begins to suggest why I'm so supportive of the public option and would welcome an opportunity to respond to any questions you may have about it. I know you join me in your commitment to coming up with a plan that will improve today's costly system and hope that you'll come to realize that a public plan is a key tool in achieving that goal. I look forward to a collaborative effort going forward.

Your friend ,

Jim Jaffe