Only days after signaling it is willing to drop a public option from a health care reform package, the Obama administration is indicating that it is willing to end the public option for the entire federal government as well.
“If moving away from public options is how things are going to get through Congress, we’re going to look hard at it as a best practice,” President Obama said today at a town hall-style forum in Washington DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Capitol Hill was chosen for the event by administration strategists as a test of the president’s coattails. The area was strong for Obama in last November’s election, but has recently seen a large amount of gentrification resulting from reverse “white flight” from the K Street district.
Although a clearly well-heeled audience, many in attendance at the meeting exhibited the boisterousness that has materialized at many such forums held by senators and representatives during their August break. One man, Cent Konrad of Bismarck, North Dakota, shouted out several times until he got Obama’s attention.
“Since insurance corporations can’t compete against a public option, what about the rest of government — which is public by definition and therefore socialist? What other corporations are having their freedom restricted?” Konrad challenged Obama.
Obama moved quickly to reassure Konrad’s concerns. “Public options are not the entirety of government, any more than it is the entirety of health care reform,” Obama said. “This is just one sliver, one aspect of it.”
Following his remarks concerning best practice, Obama added that he is looking with increasing favor on applying the so-called “co-op” alternative to a wide range of government programs, to which another man, Bax Maucus of Helena, Montana, responded favorably.
“I really like co-ops because co-op means cooperating with private corporations. That’s what 45% of the American people voted for, and it’s what 40% of the Senate will allow,” said Maucus, who later identified himself to reporters as “just a concerned citizen.”
Obama told Maucus he would do all he can to press for co-op solutions. “During my four years as a senator, I learned from Harry Reid that majority opinion cannot determine American policy. So we’re not going to bow to the majority on health insurance, not on withdrawal from Iraq, not on the economy, and not on our foreign policy,” said the president.
Obama then personalized the issue by relating a recent experience he had with co-operating. “When I was going to get my girls a dog, we proposed a public pound option — a nice beagle, let’s say,” recalled the president.
“But Mitch McConnell called the public pound option socialistic, and he reminded Malia that a bureaucrat would stand between her and her choice of dog,” Obama said. “So we co-operated, and got a Portuguese water dog from a private source.”
“A co-op solution worked for Portuguese water dogs, so I think this proves co-ops deserve a chance to solve our health insurance crisis,” he said.
The co-op approach is seeing an uptick in the opinion polls for Obama. A telephone survey of residents of Pyongyang, North Korea, shows 100% support if the president were to convert the U.S. State Department into a co-op.