The Insincerity of the Public Option Haters

When Sen. Joe Lieberman first announced he would filibuster any health care bill with a public option, I noted that he lied, falsely calling the public option an “entitlement program” that would be “trouble … for the national debt.” In fact, the public option is an “option,” not an entitlement, which would help our federal government save money.

Yesterday on Meet The Press, Lieberman didn’t exactly lie, but deployed — as his Senate colleague Al Franken coined in his old radio program’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Lie To Me” game show segment — the “Weasel.”

And Lieberman’s Weasel brightly illuminates the blatant insincerity on the part of the crusaders against the public option.

Lieberman said on Meet The Press:

[The public option] won’t even lower the cost of health insurance, which the advocates said it originally would, because the Congressional Budget Office has now said to us that the public option in Senator Reid’s bill will actually charge more for insurance than the average charge by health insurance companies.

Yes, it’s true that the CBO estimates that Reid’s version of the public plan would end up offering premiums that are “somewhat higher than the average premiums for the private plans” it would compete against in the proposed health insurance “exchanges.”

But Lieberman willfully leaves out two key pieces of information.

1. All insurance premiums would be reduced. The CBO also concluded that Reid’s reform package, including the public option, would reduce the overall average premium for all plans in the exchanges, public or private. An earlier CBO report of the similarly structured House public option determined the mere existence of a public option “would place some downward pressure on the premiums of private plans”.

2. The public option was weakened to appease insurance industry defenders like Lieberman. All year long conservatives, and some alleged “moderates,” have accused the public option of being a Trojan Horse intended to decimate private insurance, not compete with it.

To reassure critics, both the House and Senate versions rejected the “robust public option” we at Campaign for America’s Future originally championed, in which the public option could fix reimbursements to health care providers at rates akin to Medicare, currently lower than what private plans offer.

The Congressional Budget Office agreed that such a structure would provide more competitive pressure and cut more costs, without undermining the private insurance industry — only an estimated 4 million in our nation of 300 million would end up choosing the Senate’s version of a public option.

But right-leaning Dems continued to abandon their supposed interest in reducing the deficit to protect the insurance lobby, and congressional leaders had no choice but to offer a weaker version, which couldn’t fix rates, but would have to negotiate with providers just as private plans do.

While CBO said the weaker version wouldn’t save as much money, it still saves some and, as noted above, helps reduce premiums overall.

How does Lieberman respond to winning such a concession? He spits on it.

He twists the CBO analysis. He pretends “advocates” were misleading about the public option’s potential when it was weakened to appease myopic politicians like him. He makes the completely contradictory argument that public option premiums that are a little higher than private plans somehow constitute a devastating threat to his insurance company CEO constituents.

Surely he’s read the CBO report. So he knows he’s a weasel. He knows he does not have a sincere argument against the public option, and he is merely shilling for the insurance industry. Which makes it incredibly difficult to deal with him, and the political reality is, his vote is needed.

But if the non-insurance industry CEO constituents of Lieberman, and those of the other holdouts Sens. Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, hold their Washington representatives accountable for their insincere arguments, those Senators may recognize that there are more people in their states worried about skyrocketing health care costs than there are CEOs worried about skyrocketing health care profits.