A while back, I made a prediction, and promised to eat crow publicly [or as publicly as one can on this obscure bog] if I was wrong. The prediction was that a health care reform package would pass, that it would not be everything we on the left hoped for, and that it would not be the end of the story. As we come down to the wire on health care reform, it is time to make this prediction more precuise, and to assess where we are.
I think it is fair to equate a public option with "everything we on the left hoped for." To be sure, many of us would prefer a single-payer national health care system, but this was never a realistic possibility, given the constellation of forces in the United States. A single-payer system could more accurately be described as "everything we on the left dream of." I also dream of an egalitarian society in which everyone acknowledges the truth of evolution and is even willing to grant that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, but there are limits!
So, where are we, now that the Baucus committee has rejected the public option? First of all, it is clear that a bill will pass, and that it will be a major step in the direction of reform. No one anymore doubts that. Pause for a moment to consider what this means. Truman couldn't do it. Nixon couldn't do it. Clinton couldn't do it. But Obama will do it. That is a triumph by itself.
Secondly, the public option is not dead. The Baucus committee was always the most conservative of the five committees struggling with health care, and three of the others have already voted out bills that include a public option,. With the appointment of Paul Kirk, the Democrats are up to sixty, finally, and it remains genuinely uncertain whether they can block a filibuster, the statements of Nelson and others notwithstanding.
So I would say that my prediction is looking good, very good. What about the third part of the prediction? Is this all we are going to get, for at least another generation? That is truly harder to predict. So I will now venture another prediction, one that can be tested relatively soon. I predict that once a health care reform bill is signed into law, Obama will emerge from this struggle dramatically strengthened. He will have shown that against the most violent, concerted, massively funded opposition, he can prevail, and secure the fulfilment of a major campaign pledge. The decks will be cleared for other plans and proposals that have necessarily been put on hold while this health care battle is waged.
One more thing, more a prayerful hope than a prediction: Once health care is passed, Obama will be free to make a major reversal in Afghanistan policy without losing one or two crucial votes in the Senate. I think it is at least possible that we shall see that reversal shortly after health care passes.
Check back with me in a while to see whether my crystal ball is clear or cloudy.