Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) formally announced on Sunday that he would support the Senate's final version of health care reform. But in doing so he cast blame for the loss of a public option for insurance coverage partially on the president's shoulders and urged House and Senate negotiators to re-insert the government-run plan back into the legislation during conference committee.
From the Wisconsin Democrat's press office came the following statement:
I've been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and bring health care spending down. I continued that fight during recent negotiations, and I refused to sign onto a deal to drop the public option from the Senate bill. Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle. Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included. [Ed. Note: Emphasis ours.]
But while the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high. This bill significantly expands coverage and helps protect Wisconsinites from high costs and insurance company abuses, such as denying or restricting coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The bill also improves a flawed Medicare formula that denies Wisconsin fair reimbursement rates, encourages the kind of low-cost, high-value care practiced in our state, increases access to home and community-based long-term care, and reduces federal budget deficits by $132 billion over the next decade.
One of the prominent progressives in Congress, Feingold's statement gives voice to the frustration that many Democrats have felt when watching the health care debate unfold. The Obama White House, quite consciously, refused to draw a line around the public plan even as Senate Democrats practically begged for them to do so.
The decision may have been strategically astute -- positioning the president appropriately for when the public option was to meet its natural sacrifice. But it also opens the president to criticism like Feingold's and it feeds the meme of Obama's timidity.