If you campaigned to elect Barack Obama last year, on the theory that doing so would deliver health care reform, it is likely that you will get a call next week.
The president himself might even be on the phone.
Obama is throwing his weight — or, in this fit president’s case, the proper word is probably “stature” — behind a grassroots organizing effort to get 100,000 Americans to call Congress in support of health care reform.
When Obama is in New York Tuesday, he will use a Webcast to link up with active supporters of the political arm of his administration, Organizing for America, as part of the group’s “Time to Deliver” push.
At OFA’s “call parties,” the group says: “We’ll call friendly voters whose voices matter in this debate, talk to them about the President’s plan, and ask them to call on their representatives to support reform.”
OFA claims that the calls will “really shake up the debate in Washington.”
But not if people simply say: Support the president’s plan.
The president does not have a plan.
He has some talking points that he has outlined, in vague and frequently shifting ways that have left most Americans confused — and many Americans angry.
Sometimes the president’s talking points are good.
Sometimes they are not.
Sometimes they’re all about taking on the insurance companies and putting them in their place by creating the alternative of a robust public option.
Sometimes they’re all about cutting deals with existing insurers and pharmaceutical companies and, if the Blue Dogs object, maybe getting rid of the public option altogether.
No one, not even members of the administration, seems to know precisely what the president’s plan is.
Maybe the president will outline a plan before the “Time to Deliver” calls go out on Tuesday.
But if he fails to do so, the best response to a request that you call your representative with a message to “support the president’s plan” is to ask: What plan?
If that starts a conversation, here are some suggestions for the president and the OFA team:
1. “Medicare for All” is still the best option.
Obama really was right during the campaign when he said: “If you’re starting from scratch, then a single-payer system (a government-managed ‘Medicare for All’ system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment) would probably make sense.”
Obama’s dodge now is that he is not “starting from scratch.” The problem is that this keeps for-profit insurance companies at the public trough, and potentially in a position to define what is called “reform.”
The wiser response is that of Michigan Congressman John Conyers, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and other progressives who have proposed building on existing programs with a “Medicare for All” reform. Weiner’s proposed a sound amendment that would replace the complex House plans with a workable single-payer system that builds on what’s best about the current system while jettisoning the profiteers.
2. A public option is essential.
If single-payer is “off the table,” then Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, are right when they argue that, for a reform plan to be credible, it has to include a meaningful public option. This alternative must be sufficiently well-funded and well-designed to hold its own in competition with the for-profit insurers.
As Brown, Rockefeller and 28 other senators said in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid: “We have spent the better part of this year fighting for health reform that would provide insurance access and continuity to every American in a fiscally responsible manner. We are concerned that – absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option – health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment.”
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold gets to the point when he suggests that, without a public option, we’re really talking (at best) about insurance reform — not health care reform.
3. Don’t undermine Medicare and Medicaid.
Schemes to pay for the plan by squeezing Medicare and Medicaid or taxing the hard-won benefits of union workers are unacceptable compromises that penalize the working families, the elderly and states that have tried to weave together a health-care safety net.
4. States must be free to do more. Amendments to allow states to experiment with single-payer and other bolder responses to the health-care crisis must be retained in any final plan.
A federal “health-care reform” that is based on compromises should not compromise the ability of the states to rise above those compromises. This is a point that has been made in an amendment to the House reform legislation that has been sponsored by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and that has been the subject of smart, targeted calling campaigns by the Democratic group that has most aggressively advocated for real reform, Progressive Democrats of America.
5. Mandates on insurance companies should be written in stone.
There should not be any wiggle room. If the plan is to make sure that insurers will cover Americans with preexisting conditions, the mandate should read: “Insurance companies that seek to sell policies in the United States must make them available to all Americans, regardless of preexisting conditions.”
That should be the beginning, middle and end of it. No 1,000-page plans with 2,000 footnotes.
The insurance companies are flooding Washington with lobbyists whose job it is to make sure that those pages and footnotes afford for-profit corporations new opportunities to collect federal dollars without delivering anything in return. The job of the White House and the Congress is to assure that they fail. But the only way to do that is with clear, unequivocal mandates.
The Organizing for America slogan, “Time to Deliver,” is appropriate.
But the first person who must deliver is the president.
Obama needs to get specific about his plan. He needs to support a robust public option. He needs to protect Medicare and Medicaid and union plans. He needs to back real mandates on insurance companies. And he needs to let states build on what is accomplished on the federal level.
When he does that, it will be the right time to call Congress and tell representatives to support the president’s plan.
Until then, this is the right time to contact Congress and tell representatives to support real reform — with specific “asks” rather than vague talking points.