NY-23: Bill Owens: For Or Against The Public Option?

Yesterday, I provided some details on the Democratic candidate in New York’s 23rd congressional district race, Bill Owens.

In the comments reacting to the post, the big question surrounds Owens and his position on the public option. Obviously, the public option is a huge issue among progressives and the netroots. It is also a question that, in Owens’ case, does not have a clear cut response.

On August 11, Owens was profiled for PolitickerNY. He was called the “DCCC-approved non-Democrat” and was asked a few different questions. It was then that this was said about his position on health care:

Owens took a decidedly moderate line on health care restructuring, saying he does not support a public option available to anyone–the crux of the restructuring put forward by President Obama. He said some health plans in Congress not longer include the idea of a public option. This stance is gaining some traction in the Senate.

“It changes every day, the various iterations,” Owens told me. “The bill that I would vote for would have a couple of elements to it. It would cover the uninsured, it would eliminate the ability to exclude for a pre-existing condition, and also that focuses on cost-reduction.”

At the time, Owens was just picked to be the Democratic candidate and little was known about him.

(As an aside, I would like to add this from the other finalists for the nomination:

“I’m with the president; I think there should be a public option,” John Sullivan, the former mayor of Oswego, told me before Owens was selected. “I’m not a Blue Dog Democrat, let me put it that way. At least in terms of health care.”

Brian McGrath, a Manhattan attorney who grew up in the district, was more cautious, saying that he supported the idea, but that “you have to look at the public option and how it has to be structured.”

The reason I bring this up is that it has been said that Owens was the only one of the finalists to oppose a public option. On the surface, that is true. But McGrath saying that you have look at it and how it is structured certainly got my attention just as Owens and his position did.)

After President Barack Obama gave his health care address to Congress, all three candidates in NY-23 provided updates on where they stand when it comes to health care reform. Owens gave a different perspective on health care than in the past.

Owens, who told me the night he was nominated that he did not support a public option, said that it was, as a component of an insurance exchange, something he “would look very carefully at; they seem reasonable as principles.”

“My view is that there are a couple of principles that have to be adhered to in coming to a resolution of the health care issue,” Owens told me. “I’m not in favor of a litmus test because I think that’s one of the big problems in Washington today. I think we need to be able to analyze the bills and make a rational decision about it in line with the principals in the bill.

“As long as they meet the four criteria that I laid out, those are things that I would consider,” he said. “Again, I don’t want to apply a litmus test, I don’t want to apply a label. I want to be able to analyze the information and the bill and come to a conclusion.”

(His four criteria are that any bill not add to the deficit or “place burdens on small businesses,” bring down insurance costs, provide access to coverage for those without insurance, and ensure those with pre-existing conditions are insured. Owens has said this before, but it’s not on his web site, which provides no information about his biography or positions.)

(Emphasis mine.)

His response to the question about the public option (which, this time, he was actually quoted on) was, just to repeat, something he “would look very carefully at; they seem reasonable as principles.”

Owens’ approach to health care reform includes a lot of key elements. He believes in controlling costs for the middle-class and supports providing access to affordable health care coverage to every American.

This is the full list of what he supports:

·        Supports: Controlling health care costs for the middle class.

·        Supports: Providing access to affordable health insurance for every American.

·        Supports: Preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to anybody based on previous existing conditions and bans caps on lifetime coverage.

·       Supports:  Giving small business and individuals access to the lowest rates available to federal employees and large corporations.

·        Supports: Allowing anybody to keep their existing coverage.

·        Supports: Using profits from repayment of TARP funds, allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, increased efficiency in our health care system (like putting all health care records on-line and requiring insurance companies to accept payment on-line), and cutting special interest tax loopholes (like tax benefits for companies that offshore jobs) to help pay for health care reform.

·        Supports: Allowing states to use savings from elimination of uncompensated care costs (Over $100 billion annually) to reduce taxes. In New York this would help prevent property tax increases.

There are three things Owens is opposed to: Cuts to Medicare, taxing health care benefits and increasing the taxes on the middle class.

Back to the public option. It is necessary for Owens to be clear about his position. He first said he opposed it, then a month later, seemed to leave the door open for it.

So for those saying he opposes it, I would hold off on those charges.

Bill Hedrick (CA-44th) on health reform

You’ll recall that Bill Hedrick (D) is challenging robotically conservative Ken Calvert (R) in the California 44th (Riverside and Orange Counties). He came surprisingly close last time, and he has a much better funded, better organized effort this time around.

In a comment several weeks ago, I questioned whether Hedrick supports the public option, based on some ambiguous wording in a campaign email. Now, on the basis of a new email, I can say that he apparently does support the public option (though admittedly there’s still a bit of wiggle room):

Last night, President Obama addressed the nation on an issue we all know is critically important: making sure every American receives quality, affordable health care. . . .

Ken Calvert’s response?  Falsehoods, fabrication and fear mongering.  Just read what he had to say:

“It’s the pathway to nationalized health care.” – Press-Enterprise

“The public option is an absolute deal killer.” – Orange County Register

Enough is enough!

My position couldn’t be more clear: I support fundamental health care reform – and I support it now!

Having Hedrick in Congress instead of Calvert would make a huge difference in terms of voting record. You can support him on Act Blue.

Electoral politics of the public option

I’m quite prepared to delete this if I’m breaking site policy but the topic seems relavant to me.

I’ve been fighting something of a lonely battle at Daily Kos arguing with people over the health care debate and real possibility of the Obama administration dropping the so called ‘public option’ in order to bring conservative Democrats in congress onboard in order to pass a bill.

Most have drawn their proverbial line in the sand and are committed to opposing any bill that does not include a robust public option. I have no doubt that many posters here at SSP also hold this position. I respect it but cannot agree.

This mcjoan diary from earlier today seemed to be totally off base and I said so.


They are fixated on the polls that show support for the public option in theory but refuse to even acknowledge the existence of the polling that indicates the electorate has turned against the plans that are actually under discussion. As we all know perception is reality in politics.


The reason I believe we can and should discuss this here is because of the real paradox that this has created. On the one hand Democrats in conservative districts won by John McCain or narrowly won by the president last year are clearly concerned about supporting a bill that is unpopular among their constituents. Their rationale is to remove the public option. But of course this is a sticking point for progressives particularly in the House.

I think this impass is a recipe for disaster. Though I don’t think the health care failure in 1994 was the only factor in the Republican Revolution it was clearly the coup de grace after all the scandals and the contentious votes taken that cycle particularly on the budget and on the assault weapons ban. There is clear evidence that Dems in conservative districts that year who voted for those bills were likely to go down to defeat while those who voted no all survived.

Though the author is a bit of a winger and RCP in general leans conservative this article is quite persuasive.


I know Dave Wasserman at The Cook Political Report has come to the same conclusion and Nate Silver posted a link to the article yesterday and made many of the same points.


It is clear to me the pragmatic solution would be to find a compromise that can find the necessary votes in both chambers. Kossacks seem determined though to stand their ground even if it means no bill at all. What do y’all think?

IA-Sen: New ad against Grassley, and maybe new challenger

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America have produced a new television commercial, which asks which side Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is on:

Click here to donate to help keep this ad on the air in Iowa and Washington, DC.

Speaking of which side Grassley’s on, Monday’s Des Moines Register reports on his massive campaign contributions from health industry interest groups. Thomas Beaumont’s story was based on numbers compiled by Maplight.org.

Meanwhile, Representative Bruce Braley confirmed on Friday that he is running for re-election in Iowa’s first Congressional district (PVI D+5). I consider him likely to run for U.S. Senate when either Grassley or Tom Harkin retires. (Harkin comes up for re-election in 2014.)

Rumors persist that a prominent Democrat will join Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen in challenging Grassley next year. Some people have been talking about Barry Griswell, the retired CEO of the Principal Financial Group. It was news to me that Griswell is even a Democrat; he has donated to politicians from both parties in the past. Al Swearengen of The Iowa Republican blog speculates that Fred Hubbell is the mystery candidate. Hubbell currently chairs the Iowa Power Fund Board, to which Governor Chet Culver appointed him. From his official bio:

Fred S. Hubbell was a member of the Executive Board and Chairman of Insurance and Asset Management Americas for ING Group. Mr. Hubbell retired from ING Group’s Executive Board effective April 25, 2006. Mr. Hubbell was formerly Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Equitable of Iowa Companies, an insurance holding company, serving in his position as Chairman from May 1993 to October 1997, and as President and Chief Executive Officer from May 1989 to October 1997.

Like Griswell, Hubbell could be a self-funding candidate, but unlike Griswell, he has a consistent history of supporting Democrats. Charlotte Hubbell, Fred Hubbell’s wife, serves on the state’s Environmental Protection Commission.

UPDATE: Hubbell told Iowa Independent he’s not interested in running against Grassley.

PA-Sen: Sestak Leads on Health Care Reform

{Originally posted at my blog Senate Guru.}

Congressman Joe Sestak has been an unwavering voice for real health care reform.  Check out his latest diary on Daily Kos:

We have to bring health care costs down, while covering all Americans. To do this, all Americans need access to preventive care, and all health insurance providers need competition. The best way to accomplish this goal is through a strong “public health insurance option.”  A public health insurance option is a choice – a choice that is subsidized only by the co-pays and premiums of those who choose to join it – just like a private health care plan. But it is less expensive – and forces private insurance companies to lower costs because of this competition – by not having to pay CEOs $20 million salaries, or $50 million severance pay, for example.

Congressman Sestak also put together this video on health care reform, following him on the stump and on cable news, advocating for a public option.  It’s only three and a half minutes long, and I encourage you to watch the entire video:

Congressman Sestak’s leadership has seemingly been the only thing pulling recent Republican Arlen Specter to the left on key issues (emphasis added by me):

Sen. Arlen Specter just posted on his Twitter account: “People who like their current insurance ought to be able to keep it – but let’s have one more choice: a public option.”

And this comes just after his Democratic primary opponent in the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate race, Rep. Joe Sestak, said Tuesday he would “find it hard” to support a health care bill without a public option.

After becoming a Democrat in April, Specter has marched to the left (he initially opposed a public option) and will likely continue to do so in the face of what could be a tough primary challenge. But will that include opposing a Senate health care bill if it lacks the public option – and if Sestak comes out opposed to it?

Specter initially opposed a public option.  Congressman Sestak is fighting for a public option.  So Specter disingenuously tacks left.  While Specter panders and postures, Congressman Sestak displays genuine conviction and real leadership.

You can support Congressman Sestak’s campaign with a contribution via the Expand the Map! ActBlue page.