09/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Democrats' Problem: There's No Health Care Plan to Sell

People have been preoccupied with the preposterous lies that the Republicans have perpetrated on health insurance reform. At the same time, pundits repeat the conventional inside-the-beltway line that the Democrats are "off-message."

The reality is that Democrats don't have a message to be off of.

Yesterday, Roger Hickey from Campaign for America's Future and one of the leading experts on the public insurance option was a guest on the show that fellow Huffington Post blogger Art Levine and I do on I asked him what exactly is the public health insurance option at this point.

He couldn't give me a full answer. Not because he is uniformed on the subject, no one is more informed, but because there are several bills in Congress, all of them different. There isn't a fully formed public option.

You can listen to the full interview here.

There are several versions of it, as he explained. Maybe they'll just put everybody under Medicare? Maybe they'll set up a parallel system with all of the same features as Medicare?

Will there be mandatory insurance? Who pays? How much? What about small busniesses?

He knew what each bill had to say but he couldn't say for certain what will be in the final proposal because there isn't a unified bill.

So how are Democrats supposed to convince the public that their plan is a good one when there isn't a plan?

They can't. And they haven't. This has given the big "health" corporations and their Republican elves the opportunity to throw out any charge they like. All the Democrats can say is, "There's nothing like that in the bill."

What bill?

That's why words like "public option" have little meaning to those not on the inside of the issue and to those outside the beltway. "Public option" represents an amorphous concept that has yet to be spelled out.

Perhaps Obama has been playing rope-a-dope. It certainly worked for him during the election. When many of us were crying for him to strike back, he stayed on the ropes and struck at the right time.

Maybe he has been allowing Congress to make a mess and the Republicans punch themselves out so that he can walk in with a coherent plan when Congress re-convenes.

Or not.

Meanwhile, progressives have pushed back nicely and the fear-mongers have not progressed much past the 20% base they had in November. It shouldn't be too hard to convince most Americans of a good public option.....if they knew what it was.

The time has come for Democrats to bring one bill forward so that independents and the more conservative wing of the party can have a real plan to judge.