The public option agenda hasn’t gone away (nor should it)

THE PUBLIC OPTION AGENDA HASN’T GONE AWAY (NOR SHOULD IT)…. Ask the typical proponent of health care reform what he/she would have liked to see in the Affordable Care Act, but which didn’t make the cut, and you’ll likely hear about the public option.

The idea of a publicly-run competitor for private insurance consistently polled well, but ended up lacking the political support necessary to prevail. Yesterday, a House Democratic leader noted that the party wouldn’t mind another chance at getting this done.

Democrats could revive the public healthcare option if they maintain their majorities in Congress, the House Democrats’ third-ranking member said Friday.

“Reelect me, keep Democrats on the field. And when we come back next year, maybe we will get to the public option,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) said during an appearance on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Obviously, there’s no reason to take this too seriously. The likelihood of Dems maintaining a House majority is remote, at best, and even if there were some kind of electoral miracle, and a majority of the House still supported a public option next year, the dysfunctional Senate wouldn’t allow a vote on the idea. President Obama would almost certainly welcome a bill with a public option reaching his desk, but I don’t imagine he wants to have another big fight over health care policy anytime soon. More likely, he’s going to have to fight just to keep what he’s already won.

That said, I’m glad Clyburn brought it up anyway, even if the comments were borne of desperation. It’s worth noting, from time to time, that the public option belongs on the list of policies Democrats want, and will continue to want, until it’s law. The most recent push for the proposal wasn’t the last time we’ll see an appeal for a public option; it was the first.

Indeed, after the lengthy fight to pass the ACA, it’s easy to forget that this was the first time the idea of a public option had ever been considered by lawmakers. As recently as 2004, leading Democratic presidential candidates offered some reasonably good health care plans — though none was as ambitious as the final version of the Affordable Care Act — but not one, not even Howard Dean, made any reference to a public option. It wasn’t because they were opposed to the concept, it’s because the concept hadn’t really taken shape yet.

Clyburn’s underlying point happens to be true — the Democratic desire to create a public option hasn’t gone away. If its proponents don’t want to get further away from their goal, they should help prevent a Republican takeover of Congress.