THE BLOG
07/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Daschle Is Dead Wrong About the Public Option

Tom Daschle has been a friend to me for many years, a mentor and some who has done a great deal for me personally. I admire him greatly, and will always be appreciative to him. But I have to break from him on this issue: Tom Daschle is dead wrong on the public option in health care. Dropping it from the health care plan is not a minor issue, and doing it will not help get health care reform passed. In fact, it will almost certainly make the bill die a quick death.

The progressives who have been fighting for health care reform know that the public option is absolutely essential for reform. A public option keeps insurance from continuing to be in charge of everyone's health care, keeps people from being repeatedly screwed by insurance companies. It is the insurance industry that is at the heart of the problems with health care in this country, and giving them legitimate public competition is the best sign cure we have. Health care reform without a public option adds a trillion dollars to the deficit without giving any significant benefit to middle class people being hurt by their insurance carriers.

Beyond the importance of the issue, the politics of once again caving to the insurance industry don't work to get health care reform passed. I work closely with all of the progressive groups pushing for health care reform, the ones who have been putting money and ads and activist power and email lists into the fray. And I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that they would pull the plug on this bill if there's no public option -- just walk away from the fight, maybe actually actively lobby to kill the bill.

Daschle has the political equation wrong: it's possible you might not be able to beat the mighty insurance industry if you fight them on this issue, but you are dead as doornails before the fight even starts if you don't take them on. And I happen to believe insurers can be beaten, since Democrats need only 50 votes in the Senate rather than 60. A popular President with a great political apparatus and about 13,000,000 email addresses, and energized grassroots knowing they have the fight of their lives to work on: it ought to be enough to deliver 83% of Democratic Senators.

I speak from personal experience in thus issue. In 1993-94, the Clinton White House created a bill that ended up getting no passion from grassroots health care activists or the groups we were hoping would lobby it through. The people who didn't like it were able to defeat it easily because the worked harder to beat it that our side did to fight for it. If Democrats walk away from the public option, that is exactly what will happen again.

This kind of politics -- trying to avoid a fight with the big special interests by walking away from the most important piece of the puzzle -- is exactly what has gotten Democrats into political trouble time and again over the last 40 years. It's what I call in my book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, the culture of caution. It's what President Obama campaigned against when he ran, saying he would take on the special interests and bring change to Washington. So far on health care, he has held up his end of the bargain. So have the Progressive Caucus in the House, and Senators like Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold, who have all said they would vote no on a health care bill with no public option. The Democrats in the Senate need to stay on board with the President's plan, and resist this siren call of avoid a fight with the insurance industry. Avoiding that fight doesn't get you a health care bill, folks -- it makes health care reform DOA.

The general public is overwhelmingly in favor of a public option. Stand and fight for them. Let's change the culture of caution to a big change moment that will be written about in the history books, where we took on the insurance lobby and beat them to finally deliver national health care reform legislation.