Liberals Lining Up Against Senate Health Reform Deal

It's time to accept what's doable.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Unhappy with the healthcare deal that Senate Democrats reached this week, liberal activist groups are gearing up to continue pushing for a strong public option, even in the face of all indications that it's dead. MoveOn.org, for example, has started an online petition, and ABC News reports that the Progressive Change Campaign is "targeting" four liberal senators demanding that they hold the line on the public option.

Look, tenacity in politics is admirable--right up until it becomes an impediment to progress. We're past that point.

The details of the senate deal still haven't been made public, but broadly it would expand Medicare, and create non-profit national healthcare plans which would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management (which runs the federal workers' health plan). And it drops the public option. There's plenty to dislike about this deal whatever your political stripe. But that's the nature of law-making--legislation is rarely perfect. And this bill would make progress in terms of expanding healthcare coverage (that's the whole point of this exercise, right?) and has one trump card in its favor: It has a decent chance of gathering 60 votes in the Senate.

On the whole I think the public option is a good idea. But at this moment in time it's not a practical idea. The votes just aren't there. And when it comes to governing, at some point you often have to cut a deal, because the other people in the process have a say too.

Progressives who continue to wave the bloody public option shirt are like football fans who always want to go for it on fourth down. Sometimes that's the right move. But when you've got fourth and long in your own territory, you punt; and when you have fourth and goal on the 25 yard line, you kick a field goal. That's where we are now: We can take the points and hope to score again later or we can pig-headedly insist that anything less than a touchdown (and two point conversion) is a craven failure.

Here's the choice for progressives: Take the senate deal with hopes of improving on it down the line. Or keep pushing for perfect legislation and when the whole effort implodes and nothing at all gets done pat yourselves on the back that you fought the good fight and stood on principle.

Take the points.

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