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Reply to "Quit Playing Nice, Obama - Just Get Things Done"

CBC, Far Left Blast Obama Over Public Option

Date: Tuesday, August 18, 2009
By: Frederick Cosby, Special to

Is the doe-eyed love-fest between President Barack Obama, African-Americans and political liberals over?

Health care reform is giving Obama a headache, and the pain isn’t just coming from the pounding he’s getting from Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, who complain that his plan costs too much and maintain that the federal government shouldn’t get into the health insurance business by offering a public insurance option.

Obama’s also been taking a lot of lumps lately from his core-constituents – blacks and liberals – who fear he’s getting weak-kneed and is walking away from promises that he made on the campaign trail and in his initial days in the White House.

“I wonder if the White House truly understands the depth of anger they’ll face from the progressive side if they fail to pass health care reform with a strong public option,” Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas Zuinga wrote on his liberal Web site Monday. “We haven’t busted our asses the last four years to pass bank bailouts and give insurance companies everything they ever wanted. If we wanted that, we’d be Republicans.”

New political bruises came aplenty for Obama on Monday as he got blasted by the Congressional Black Caucus and former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested over the weekend that the White House might be willing to chuck the government-run public option component, saying it wasn’t “the essential element” of comprehensive reform.

That set Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee off. Lee (D-Calif.) said Monday that remarks about health care by Sebelius and other White House officials on the Sunday news shows were “deeply troubling.”

“Any bill without a public health insurance plan like Medicare is no health reform,” Lee said in a written statement. “Without a public option, there will be no way to keep insurance companies honest and their rates down. A public health option that competes with private insurers will set standards that could help lower costs and improve access.”

Dean, a physician and former Vermont governor, was more succinct.

“Let’s not say we’re doing health reform without a public option,” said Dean, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. “You really can’t do health reform” without the public option.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) offered his own veiled slap at the Obama White House Monday, saying that “opposing the public plan is an endorsement of the status quo.”

“I am not interested in passing health care reform in name only,” he said. “Without a public option, I don’t see how we will bring real change to a system that has made good health care a privilege for those who can afford it.”

But health care isn’t the only area where Obama is getting an earful. Frustrated supporters, black and white, are venting that Obama isn’t being tough enough on his Republican opponents and that there’s been little change between the Obama White House and the Bush administration in the handling of terrorism suspects.

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior advisor and confidant, encountered some black/liberal displeasure with the president at last Saturday’s Netroots Nation conference of liberal bloggers in Pittsburgh.

She was heckled and asked why Obama had adopted several of former President George W. Bush’s policies that he criticized as a candidate and why he won’t release photos of alleged abuses inflicted upon terrorism suspects in American custody.

"I hear the frustration, and I hear the kind of hissing," said Jarrett, according to an account on the "I hear you. Settle down over there, settle down."

"I'm asking you to trust [the president]," she continued, "and I know that's hard because I know how pure you are to the cause. But he also has to keep in mind that he has to keep those folks safe."

As for the public option measure in the health care bill, Jarrett assured the liberal bloggers that Obama wouldn’t go wobbly on them.

"Let me be very clear, and I talked to the president yesterday about this knowing I was coming here," said Jarrett. "The president wants the public option. He has made that clear everywhere he has gone."

The next day, Sebelius took to the airwaves and made her remarks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” sidestepped a question on whether Obama would stand firm on the public option.

“The bottom line again is do individuals looking for health insurance in the private market have choice and competition?” he said. “If we have that, the president will be satisfied.”

Of all the mounting frustration among blacks and liberals over Obama’s stewardship, perhaps none stood out more than the CBC’s. Many political observers thought the black caucus – with four members chairing major committees in the House of Representatives and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) as the third-ranking House Democrat – would stand by Obama through thick and thin.

But many black caucus members have created space between themselves and the president and have sided with the House’s Progressive, Hispanic, and Asian-American caucuses in full-throated support of the health care public option.

“I will not be able to support a health care reform bill that does not guarantee the creation of a public option that will provide an alternative for the 47 million uninsured Americans and millions who are facing rising premiums and co-pays,” Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.) said Monday.

The CBC’s break with the Obama administration on health care doesn’t surprise several CBC members, who predicted that they would sometimes be a critical voice, even with a black man sitting in the Oval Office.

“I think the role of the Congressional Black Caucus will not alter from its roadmap,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told a symposium at Massachusetts’ Williams College just days after Obama won the election. “And we can tread in places as people of color where we have not been before, whether its energy, health care, higher levels of education, and higher levels of corporate America.”