Former Democtratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean gave one of the clearest warnings yet to Blue Dog Democrats on Thursday, saying in an interview with The Huffington Post that any Democrat who voted against health care reform -- and more specifically, a public option -- would likely face a Democratic primary if they were to run for re-election.
"I do think there will be primaries as the result of all this, if the bill doesn't pass with a public option," he told the site's Sam Stein.
Dean, who was once the governor of Vermont and a presidential candidate in 2004, has been vocal in recent weeks in support of a strong public option, even going so far as to devote nearly two hours to the cause when he filled in for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown. Dean has made the argument that since the government can run such programs as Medicare and VA health care, a public option would be highly possible.
If nothing else, Dean's warning is among the clearest language we've seen thus far from the progressive side of the aisle. The media has made a lot of noise about the Blue Dog Democrats, and while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said repeatedly she wants a bill with a public option, no one has said anything about what would happen if a few of the more conservative Democrats derail what many see as an essential part of reform.
The White House hasn't been forceful enough in its insistence on a public option -- it really bugs me when President Obama now refers to this whole issue as "health insurance reform," not "health care reform" -- and we know we can't trust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to stand up and have a backbone.
Dean's threat is a long time coming, and we honestly need more of them. I wish Tim Kaine, the current DNC head and governor of Virginia, would step up and make a similar proclamation -- though I wonder if he's keeping quiet knowing his colleague, former Virginia Governor and Sen. Mark Warner, hasn't yet voiced his support for a public option.
The Blue Dogs need to know they will not escape repricussions should a bill pass without a public option. Republican opposition isn't unexpected, and with the numbers the Democrats have in the Senate, they shouldn't be paying the Republicans any mind. The Republicans are not the problem (even if their tacit approval of "health care protestors" is bordering on dangerous) -- the Blue Dogs are, and someone needs to let them know obstruction will not go unnoticed.
Obama won in November on the premise of health care reform, among other things. If this initiative fails, because of his own party, the rest of his agenda will be seriously compromised -- and 2012 will become more interesting.
Dean might've fired the first shot, but we need even more progressives to take a stand like this. The fate of this bill might depend on it.