FLASHBACK: Obama Repeatedly Touted Public Option Before Refusing To Push For It In The Final Hours

In recent days, there has been an uproar in the progressive community over the Senate’s decision to drop the public option from its health care bill in order to reach the crucial 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Given that many liberals backed a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system, the public option was seen as a political compromise.

“I didn’t campaign on the public option,” President Obama told the Washington Post. But he touted the public option on his campaign website and spoke frequently in support of it during the first year of his presidency, citing its essential value in holding the private insurance industry accountable and providing competition:

— In the 2008 Obama-Biden health care plan on the campaign’s website, candidate Obama promised that “any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [a] new public plan.” [2008]

— During a speech at the American Medical Association, President Obama told thousands of doctors that one of the plans included in the new health insurance exchanges “needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market.” [6/15/09]

— While speaking to the nation during his weekly address, the President said that “any plan” he signs “must include…a public option.” [7/17/09]

— During a conference call with progressive bloggers, the President said he continues “to believe that a robust public option would be the best way to go.” [7/20/09]

— Obama told NBC’s David Gregory that a public option “should be a part of this [health care bill],” while rebuking claims that the plan was “dead.” [9/20/09]

Despite all this overt advocacy for the public option, it appears that Obama was reticent to apply the political pressure necessary to get the plan in the final hours of congressional negotiation. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — who threatened to filibuster the creation of any new public plan or expansion of Medicare — told the Huffington Post that he “didn’t really have direct input from the White House” on the public option and was never specifically asked to support it.


Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), one of the most ardent backers of public insurance, blamed the demise of the public option on a “lack of support from the administration.” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) — perhaps the most visible defender of the public option in the entire health care debate — went even further, saying that Obama’s lack of support for congressional progressives amounted to him being “half-pregnant” with the health insurance and drug industries.


“All I’ll say, I was surprised to hear this because I had assumed all along that the White House was pushing strongly for the public option,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said. “I just assumed that.”


,In response to a questionnaire from the Washington Post, then-candidate Obama said, “My plan builds on and improves our current insurance system, which most Americans continue to rely upon, and creates a new public health plan for those currently without coverage.”


,DailyKos diarist slinkerwink notes Obama talking about the public option in 2007.[upd