By Robert A. Vella
In 2009, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – an independent who caucused with the Democrats – threatened to filibuster President Obama’s Affordable Care Act bill if it included a public insurance option as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Since the procedural vote count to override a filibuster in the U.S. Senate appeared very close, Democratic leaders decided to remove that provision to appease the renegade politician.
The legislation was finally approved by a vote of 60-39 with one senator abstaining. After Republicans won a stunning and overwhelming victory in the 2010 midterm elections, they have continually attempted to undermine and repeal Obamacare using every available tactic. Now, with President Trump’s executive order, the serious ramifications of the Democrats’ failure to pass a public option back then are plainly obvious.
Had Obama and Democratic leaders vigorously pushed for a public option, which they certainly didn’t, it might have passed. In that event, the very people likely to suffer most from Trump’s executive order would now have a viable alternative. Instead, those folks will be forced to pay much higher health insurance premiums and costs while possibly losing some important medical benefits and safeguards they currently possess. Furthermore, the projected disruption of the marketplace from Trump’s move will probably motivate some insurers to abandon certain markets altogether leaving untold numbers of people without any health insurance whatsoever.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and the Democrats’ practical considerations in 2009 are understandable. However, the healthcare debate over the ACA bill opened ideological fissures within the party which only grew wider with time. Today, the rebellion of young people and progressives against the Democratic leadership has weakened the party so dramatically that its effective power has fallen to the lowest point since the 1920s.
In politics, as in war, strategic success comes from knowing which battles to fight and how to fight. In every endeavor, what might be gained must be measured against what might be lost. Sometimes, ultimate victory can be achieved through tactical defeat; and, vice versa. Had Democrats demanded the public option and lost the 2009 vote, they would’ve gained something far more lasting – the support from those now in exodus. Had they demanded the public option and still won the 2009 vote, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today.