For those who were counting on President Obama’s grassroots army–Organizing for America (OFA)–to lead the fight this August for a public health insuranceoption, there are some troubling signs.
This week, OFA Director Mitch Stewart sent two e-mails to members–oneasking them to call their representatives and another asking them to visit their representatives’ offices. There was no message to advocate for the public option in either e-mail.
When calling their legislators, Stewart directs OFA members to say,”Thanks for working to enact real health insurance reform this year.Voters like me support your efforts.”
Lame. Support which efforts? Blue Dogs, Chuck Grassley, Max Baucus or any other conservative, status quo-protecting member of Congress all claim to be working for real reform and would be happy to receive that call.
Folks who signed up to lobby their legislators were sent an OFA “OfficeVisits for Health Reform Guide” which features this message: “I supportthe President’s health insurance guarantees: no discrimination forpre-existing conditions; no exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses,deductibles, or co-pays; no cost-sharing for preventive care; nodropping of coverage for seriously ill; no gender discrimination; noannual or lifetime caps on coverage; extended coverage for young adults;guaranteed insurance renewal.”
Granted, these are all important and needed reforms. But there is nomention–not even a suggestion–that members advocate for theoverwhelmingly popular public option which would help ensure that theinsurance companies make these vital reforms.
I e-mailed OFA to ask why they omitted the public option. DNCspokesman Brad Woodhouse responded, “We are totally aligned with thePresident and his principles for reform and his support of the publicoption–advocacy for it is being used in phone banks, canvassing,etc. This particular push is around another target audience–folkswho have insurance and what’s in it for them–which are these eightHealth Insurance Guarantees which will end decades of unfair insurancecompany practices.”
I’m not sure I buy the different target audience excuse. But it is truethat there is a phone banking script OFA volunteers are currently usingthat asks people to add their names to a public list of citizenssupporting President Obama’s three core principles for health insurancereform–“including a public insurance option to keep insurancecompanies honest.”
But right now–when advocates for real reform are squaring off withthe angry and incoherent right (if they’re worried about Big Governmentthey should give up Social Security and Medicare benefits!) and thespecial interests and trying to send a unified, resounding message totheir representatives–why wouldn’t OFA be asking its extensive listof members to push the public option when speaking with theirrepresentatives?
Even in President Obama’s health insurance town hall Tuesday–he didn’t mention the public option in his twenty-minuteintroduction. It wasn’t until about the twenty-five minute mark–inresponse to a question–President Obama said: “We also want to makesure that everybody has some options, so there’s been talk about thispublic option. This is where a lot of the [fear] of a governmenttakeover of health care comes from….I do think having a public optionas part of [the exchange] would keep the insurance companies honest.”
Not exactly using his otherworldly rhetorical skills to rally the troopsthere.
Finally, in a conference call with OFA activists last night, SeniorAdviser David Axelrod focused completely on the insurance guaranteesmentioned above, nothing about the public option fight. (Though therewas a volunteer from Ohio and an organizer in California who bothalluded to it.) Contrast that with Healthcare for America Now (HCAN)–the national coalition leading the fight for the public option–which held a conference call immediately following the OFA call. Congressman Lloyd Doggett–keeping up the good fight despite being burnt in effigy by wingnuts last week–told participants, “We must have a very strong public option in the bill in September to justifypassing it, and I think we can get that…if people who are talking totheir representatives are saying that a public option is essential toprovide us maximum choice and to get the competition that theseinsurance companies haven’t had. It’s the best way to getcost-effective, efficient services to the most people.”
Following the HCAN call, participants were sent an e-mail which includeda link to call members of Congress. One of the four principles to lobby on: “Choice of a private plan or a national public health insurance plan ready on day one.”
There are reports that the White House is distancing itself from HCANbecause they think the coalition will make it tougher for them to wheeland deal with the special interests and conservative legislators. Let’s hope that’s not true.
Throughout this fight, activists have said that the people need to pushPresident Obama–create the political space for him to do the rightthing. OFA needs to give people the maximum opportunity to do justthat. Mixed messages won’t cut it. As the President might say, “Notthis time. Not now.”