The fallout over President Obama’s comment that he did not campaign on the public option continued today. FDL’s slinkerwink found video evidence of the President discussing a “public plan” in 2007, ironically as part of a presentation to Planned Parenthood about reproductive care. In it, he claimed that reproductive care was basic care and that the public plan would have to include reproductive care coverage (that’s two, two, two capitulations in one).
Alex Koppelman, as a counterpoint, did a thorough rundown of the 2008 campaign, and determined that, while the public option was always a part of Obama’s white papers and campaign literature, in public he rarely mentioned it. This is in contrast to his first year as President, when Obama went out of his way to discuss the public option on numerous, high-profile occasions.
It’s worth highlighting those things that Obama did “campaign on,” to borrow his phrase, when it comes to health care, however, because it doesn’t exactly support the President’s other big claim, that there is no gap between what he campaigned on and what is about to pass the US Senate.
There was no bigger speech on health care during the campaign than the one Obama gave on October 4, 2008, in Newport News, Virginia. He laid out all his objections to John McCain’s plan and all of the details of his plan, to the extent that you can do so in a 35-minute speech. I think it’s fair to say that he “campaigned on” everything in this speech. And here are just some of the highlights.
• He starts out by explaining the need to address health care immediately, and lays out all the problems with the current system. He then launches into an attack on John McCain, leading at around 8:10 by saying that McCain would fund his plan in part “by taxing your health care benefits for the first time in history.” That’s a blunt way of putting it, but he’s essentially criticizing McCain for his plan to eliminate the employer deduction on health care, which the Senate health care bill essentially does through the excise tax on high-end insurance plans. McCain wanted to eliminate the deduction completely, while the excise tax has a high threshold. But we’re talking about the same basic policy, one which Obama says at 10:15 would lead to employers dumping health care coverage altogether.
• At 16:45, Obama says that “I don’t think we should settle for health care that works better for drug and insurance companies than it does for hard working Americans. I don’t think that’s the change we need. We can do better than that.” It’s going to be hard to argue that the new health care system post-reform doesn’t work better for drug and insurance companies. You can argue whether or not that matters in the wake of covering 31 million new people, but clearly it’s going to work out fine for them.
• Obama constantly talks in this speech about taking on drug and insurance companies “for the prices they charge and the harm that they cause.” He blows through the public option by saying quickly that he would “increase competition in the insurance industry.”
• At 23:40, Obama says that, as a pillar of his plan to reduce premiums by $2,500 per family (none of the plans in the House and Senate would do that for the overwhelming majority of the population), he’s going to go to the drug companies and “say thanks but no thanks for overpriced drugs, drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada and Mexico. We’ll let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. We’ll stop drug companies from blocking generic drugs that are just as effective and less expensive. We’ll allow the safe importation of lower-priced drugs from countries like Canada.” Now, absolutely none of this came to pass. There’s no Medicare price negotiation, the Administration actively worked against reimportation, and generics to follow-on biologics are still blocked from the market.
Now, this is just an example of the kinds of things Obama was saying in his most important health care speech from the general election campaign. Earlier, in the primaries, he railed against the individual mandate on multiple occasions; it became one of the biggest philosophical differences between him and Hillary Clinton. Ryan Grim has another example:
Obama also pledged to go after the anti-trust exemptions that drug makers and insurers enjoy: “When I’m President,” he said in Iowa in early 2007, “we’re going to make drug and insurance companies compete for their customers just like every other business in America. We’ll investigate and prosecute the monopolization of the insurance industry.”
The antitrust exemption is not revoked in the current Senate bill.
It’s insulting to the intelligence of people who have followed this Presidency closely to say there’s “no gap” between the policies espoused on the campaign trail and the finished product. That’s not necessarily a problem – things change, compromises are made – but there’s a serious credibility problem in saying that there’s “no gap” publicly. It’s why liberals are attacking the President for abandoning the principles of his own agenda. The President has every right to say the public option is not the most important part of the health care bill. He doesn’t have the right to act like an innocent bystander and say he never supported it – and the same goes for the long list of policies he touted on the campaign trail which aren’t reflected in the finished product.