Meeting Gillibrand, The Public Option, and Medicare For All

For Your Reading

Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is quite charming in person, far more so than I had originally assumed prior to meeting her last Wednesday evening. I met her at a fundraiser scheduled by Young Professionals for Gillibrand, which was held at The Gates, a club on the West Side. As barely a young professional myself, I saw it as a unique opportunity to go there and, as our friend Joe Biden likes to say, “test her metal” – to see for myself if she was really ready for prime time. After the night was through, Zac and I were in complete agreement: she didn’t disappoint.

After an impassioned speech and a few questions, it was my turn to stick myself in there and see if she could speak to the issue that I cared most about: fixing our wasteful, inefficient and immoral health care system. The question I asked, though not verbatim, went something like this:

Senator Gillibrand, I’d first like to thank you the recent letter you signed and sent to Harry Reid demanding that we use reconciliation to bring back the public option and score a big victory for the American people. [Applause]

As for going forward on health care reform in the near future, what are our chances that we will get the public option, the government run alternative that will provide real competition to the exploitative, wasteful, and inefficient health care corporate cartel that is gauging American workers and holding this nation back from progress? [Applause]

Okay, maybe I didn’t pull a Keith Olbermann and use the word “cartel,” but I did say pretty much everything else. At this point, although I was very impressed with what Gillibrand had been saying prior to my question, I was expecting the same old politician/focus-group-tested-response, like:

Great Question. We are currently working very hard to bring back the public option, and we will all do our best. We need to remember that the most important thing is not the specifics, but that we have some competition, not necessarily in the form of a government plan.

But she didn’t say that. Not even close. What she said actually greatly exceeded my expectations, slapping a big smile on my face and unleashing a wave of applause from the crowd. She began by saying that the public option will be hard to enact through reconciliation – a parliamentary procedure that only requires fifty-one votes instead of sixty – given that reconciliation is strictly a budgetary procedure and is thus supposed to be used only for budgetary issues. Albeit “budgetary issues” is vague, the idea here is that reconciliation is supposed to be used only when the budget has changed and the Congress must adjust existing programs to fit the new budget.

With this in mind, Gillibrand sought to find a way around this, and stumbled on something that progressives have been saying all year long. Instead of enacting a brand new “public option” program, why don’t we instead adjust the current public program already in existence – Medicare – to our current budget, i.e., expand Medicare for everyone? If we did this, it could be done completely through reconciliation.

This pronouncement sent me throwing victory fist pumps through the air like Ari Gold. Unbeknownst to most on the right, we already live in a country that has “socialized medicine”: it’s called Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. And unlike the health care that we all have, these programs – although they have problems in their own right – are vastly more popular, more efficient, and a lot cheaper than private insurance.

So the takeaway: Gillibrand was asked about the public option, and responded with Medicare for all.