Is the opt-out a cop-out?

More liberals back a public option compromise that lets red states say no thanks. Plus: Double standard on Rangel

By Joan Walsh
Published October 9, 2009 4:09PM (UTC)
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Is the public option opt-out a cop-out? That headline's a cop-out, I admit, since I can't decide yet. I would prefer a robust 50-state public option, and I'd support using reconciliation to get there with less than 60 votes. But the political realist in me knows Democrats would be pilloried for using reconciliation in a way that Republicans weren't, when they passed George W. Bush's budget-busting tax cuts that way, twice -- see my Charlie Rangel footnote on the media double standard for Democrats, below -- and it would become a huge distraction. If Democrats can get a solid 60 votes with a limited opt-out -- to me, it all depends on how it's written -- I'm ready to listen.

I talked about this on "The Ed Show" today. Ed Schultz was vexed about a seemingly paradoxical Quinnipiac poll, showing only 29 percent of voters think the GOP is negotiating in good faith on healthcare, but 57 percent want the healthcare reform bill to be "bipartisan" nonetheless. I think the poll just says people are tired of gridlock and inaction, and they think bipartisanship is the way through it. Of course, that's because the media can't come out and say, unequivocally, that Republicans are refusing to cooperate with President Obama and the Democrats in any way. Witness, for example, the idiotic media equivocation over whether Obama wanted to establish "death panels," where the coverage was lame "some say" and "Obama supporters disagree" about a simple matter of fact.  There was a lot of heavy media breathing about Max Baucus' Senate Finance Committee compromise, which was supposed to be the bill that brought along his GOP brethren; after months of debate and GOP amendments, of course no Republicans support Baucus' sorry bill.


But even Baucus now supports the opt-out option. My favorite argument for the opt-out comes from Paul Krugman, who grudgingly wrote Thursday that he could maybe go along with it,  because it would have the virtue of forcing red state Democrats and Republicans to tell their constituents they were putting insurance companies first, if they pushed to opt out.  As Alex Koppelman noted tonight, many red state Republicans might well go along with the public option and "forget" to opt out, much the way they railed against Obama's stimulus plan and then accepted the money it brought to their states.

The Charlie Rangel footnote: OK, I think Rangel is in trouble. He's done a lot of good for the poor, but he's obviously done some good for himself, too. Still, the GOP effort to remove him as House Ways and Means chairman on Wednesday was a partisan show trial. I went on CNN to argue this tonight, and found myself down 3-1 against CNN's Campbell Brown, Time's Mark Halperin and the Daily Beast's silly centrist John Avlon. Halperin even played the race card, and said if Rangel wasn't black (and a Democrat) the media would be calling for his head. I guess once the Congressional Black Caucus weighed in (Rangel was a founder) Halperin's claim couldn't be far behind, but pundits please: Congress positively stinks when it comes to policing its own, and when you look at how long Tom DeLay and all the Abramoff-tainted Republicans took to face reality, the clock has barely started ticking on Rangel. DeLay took months after he was frickin' indicted to resign.

For more on this, please read Joe Conason's terrific column about the media's double standard for Democrats, right now. Because if I write more about it, my head will explode before I go back to finishing Taylor Branch's "The Clinton Tapes," which tells the whole pathetic story.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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