THE BLOG
08/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Weekly Pulse: The Presidential Guilt Trip

During a strategy call with key congressional leaders last week, President Obama reportedly complained that liberal advocacy groups are attacking Democrats instead of trying to pass whatever health care bill the Senate happens to cough up. I'm sure he put it more charismatically, but according to the Washington Post, that was the gist.

The president was probably reacting to a spate criticism of Democrats perceived to be dragging their feet on health care reform. Democracy for America released a spot calling Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) a "sellout" for taking $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry and failing to endorse a public plan. The naming and shaming is unlikely to stop, regardless of the president's preferences. If progressives were to stop haranguing vulnerable Democrats, they'd loose their main point of leverage on health care reform.

Laura Flanders argues that progressives can't afford to sit back and let the health care industry do all the lobbying. She estimates that industry groups are spending $1.4 million a day to influence the health care debate:

Why are [public plan fans] pushing so hard? Well, consider what they're up against. Pulling against anything remotely public, is the biggest lobbying blitz Washington's ever seen. The Washington Post reports that private insurers, drug companies and their representatives spent more than $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year.

And they've hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress to do all that lobbying work.

Realistically, whose interests would actually prevail if progressives worked to pass whatever bill lobbyists hashed out in the Senate? Probably not ours. AfroNetizen links to a handy diagram showing how many former Congressional staffers from key senate committees are lobbying their old bosses on behalf of the health care industry.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly wonders why the Democrats are so fixated on a creating a bipartisan health care bill in the first place:

What are the chances, my friend asked, that Republicans would accept the importance of "bipartisanship" in shaping the policy? What are the odds that GOP leaders would make a series of concessions to Democrats, and tolerate Republican centrists who were toying with the idea of siding with the minority party?

It reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend of mine about an alternate universe. Imagine, my friend said, there was a Republican president, working with large, obstructionist-proof Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The Republican president's approval rating was about 60%, and he'd just won a popular electoral mandate on a key issue, which Republicans have prioritized literally for generations.

The answer, of course, is that Democrats lack party discipline. If the Republicans were in charge, they'd hash out a plan within their own caucus and apply pressure to bring the dissenters into line. Democratic activists who criticize Landrieu and other wishy washy Dems are just trying to impose some discipline from the bottom up.

In other health reform news, Paul Waldman argues in the Prospect that a public health insurance system is superior because, at the end of the day, private insurance companies want to take our money and deny us care. It's nothing personal, that's just their business model. Private companies have a huge profit incentive to cover as little as possible or to place bureaucratic obstacles in the way of patients to discourage them from taking advantage of the benefits they're nominally entitled to.

Conservatives threaten that a public option will put a government bureaucrat between patients and doctors. That's a lie. In any kind of insurance scheme, some "bureaucrat" has to make a decision about what the plan will cover. In the public insurance system, bureaucrats answer to politicians, who in turn answer to the people that use the system. In a private system the bureaucrats answer to shareholders that demand ever-increasing profits. Arithmetic dictates two basic ways to make more money in the insurance business: Raising premiums or cutting services. Insurance companies could theoretically save money by becoming more efficient but for some reason they still spend much more on administration than Medicare does to provide the same coverage.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tackles the insurance industry mythology that people in other countries hate their "government run" health insurance: "France's system, however, is surprisingly American in its basic underpinnings. And while no system comes out tops in every single metric, French healthcare [...] is better than ours on almost all of them and does it for close to half the cost."

Finally, Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel have been playing good cop/bad cop all week. While Obama has been swearing up and down that he supports a full public plan, Emanuel has been saying that the White House would be willing to cut a deal to create a public plan that only kicks in if there isn't "enough" competition in the private insurance market. It's tough to tell which of them is serious. Is Obama just placating progressives while letting Rahm reassure the insurance companies of the White House's true agenda? Or is it Rahm who's trying to placate the insurance industry? It will be interesting to see how this game plays out.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net.

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