It's a tale of two letters as the health care debate continues apace today.
Sixty House Democrats have written a letter of protest to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who prompted a rebellion by liberals, by saying Sunday that the "public option" -- a government health plan to compete with private insurers -- was not an "essential element" of a health care overhaul as far as the Obama administration was concerned.
Their letter (first reported by the firedoglake.com and Plum Line blogs) is signed by the co-chairpersons of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. (Read it here.)
"The opportunity to improve access to health care is a onetime opportunity," they wrote. "Americans deserve reform that is real-not smoke and mirrors. We cannot rely solely on the insurance companies’ good faith efforts to provide for our constituents. A robust public option is essential, if we are to ensure that all Americans can receive health care that is accessible, guaranteed and of high-quality."
UPDATE: Sebelius, herself, tried to get back on message today, repeating the White House line that Obama hasn't changed his position and still prefers a public option, though the administration is open to other ways to offer competition to private insurers.
"All I can tell you is that Sunday must have been a very slow news day because here's the bottom line: Absolutely nothing has changed. We continue to support the public option. That will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest," she said during a speech on Medicare to the US Commission on Aging.
"If people have other ideas about how to accomplish these goals, we'll look at those, too. But the public option is a very good way to do this. I've seen it work for state employees in states like Kansas where a public option is side-by-side with private insurers, offering competition and choice for state employees. It's what it does when it provides choice in markets that are often dominated by one insurance company, a monopoly that can charge what it wants because it has no competition."
On the other side, House GOP leader John Boehner has written to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) President and CEO Billy Tauzin, urging him to reconsider the powerful drug industry's support of Obama's overall thrust, or as Boehner puts it "Washington Democrats’ government takeover of health care." (Read it here.)
The drug industry agreed to kick in $80 billion in savings over 10 years to help pay for the overhaul and help fund a pro-reform ad campaign. In return, the White House agreed not to push for additional concessions.
"Appeasement rarely works as a conflict resolution strategy," Boehner writes. "This is as true in the arena of policymaking as it is in schoolyards across America. When a bully asks for your lunch money, you may have no choice but to fork it over. But cutting a deal with the bully is a different story, particularly if the “deal” means helping him steal others’ money as the price of protecting your own."
"The simple truth is, two wrongs don’t make a right. And the short-sighted health care deal PhRMA struck with the Obama Administration at your urging provides confirmation of this time-tested maxim on an epic and tragic scale."
"PhRMA would do well to halt this short-sighted, misguided campaign and listen to the American people, rather than continue to collaborate on an effort to spin them," Boehner adds.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.