AP Images
Senate Finance Committee members, Sept. 22, 2009, during opening remarks of the committee’s markup of healthcare legislation.

For weeks now it’s seemed more and more evident that instead of significant, meaningful healthcare reform, we are–if we’re lucky–going to wind up with something akin to health insurance reform. These reforms will be pretty unassailable (who could oppose making it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against pre-existing conditions, for instance?) but a far cry from what just a couple months ago seemed not just possible but probable–reform that included a robust, affordable public option accessible to all Americans.

Why has the healthcare reform battle disintegrated so rapidly? Certainly the seemingly endless barrage of right wing lies and downright insanity over the summer didn’t help. Neither did the White House’s lackadaisical approach to countering it. But at the end of the day, real reform–the public option, considered today by the Finance Committee–should have had the votes it needed to pass. Instead it failed by fifteen votes to eight, with five Democrats voting against it.

Four out of five major committees have delivered in one form or another what 65 percent of the American public wants: a government-run public health insurance option. President Obama supports a public option, the majority of medical profession does, and without it there is no way healthcare costs can be brought down in any significant way.

And yet our Democrat-controlled Congress can’t get its act together. Today, five Democratic senators rejected the most progressive version of the public option to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s amendment. Remember their names, because they should go down as traitors to what the Democratic party should stand for: Blanche Lincoln, Bill Nelson, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad and Tom Carper.

That’s right–we’re not talking about thirty to forty Democratic senators gumming up the works, we’re talking about a handful of woefully out-of-touch, heartless politicians who aren’t clever enough to realize the obvious political upshot of seeing healthcare reform succeed.

This group of senators is not only letting their constituents and the rest of the American people down–they’re also setting the stage for the failure of President Obama’s top domestic priority and most likely a reversal of fortune in the 2010 midterm elections. What adviser has persuaded them to believe that by slowing down and/or neutering healthcare they will somehow burnish their reputation and improve their electoral position? Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus‘s name is now the equivalent of a cuss word in most Democratic households and with good reason.

It’s times like these that even the most patient progressives find themselves at loss for why they even bother to back the Democratic party. It’s no longer the lesser of two evils; in this case it’s the equal of the other evil. Certainly the debate is not over and this may not be the public option’s last stand–whatever ultimately emerges from the Finance Committee will have to reconciled with the other Senate bills, plus whatever emerges from the House, which Speaker Pelosi has insisted will include a public option. But this is a devastating blow to all of us who have been holding out hope that our elected officials could actually still do their jobs and make positive change happen for ordinary Americans.