High drama continues to unfold on Capitol Hill as the Senate’s version of health care reform remains in flux and faces increasing opposition from both sides of the ideological spectrum and a majority of the voting public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in his continuing quixotic quest for 60 votes, caved into pressure led by Sen. Joe Lieberman and dropped the public option from the Senate version of the health care bill. After promising a new plan that would be even better, Reid then dropped the new plan, a Medicare buy-in for people aged 55 and older, and is currently at work at a new plan – one that is still hidden from the majority of the Senate and the American people.
With the removal of the public option and Medicare expansion (two methods at moving toward the liberal Holy Grail of a single-payer health care system), opposition from liberal groups is intensifying. Howard Dean has said the current bill must be killed, and now SEIU and AFL-CIO are holding emergency meetings that may result in their formal opposition to the bill.
All of the shenanigans have carried over to the Senate floor, where Sen. Tom Coburn forced a 787-page amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders that outright converted America to single-payer to be read out loud. Sanders threw a hissy fit and withdrew his amendment, an act that may have been against the rules of the Senate. Even more jaw-dropping was the objection by Sen. Max Baucus to Sen. Coburn’s request that individual Senators certify that they have read and understand any health care bill they vote on. The video of the exchange is below, and it’s breathtaking to see Sen. Baucus seemingly shrug off responsibility for understanding massive legislation, something one would imagine would be a basic requirement for a deliberative legislative process:
Sen. Sanders has now said that, due to the deletion of the public option and Medicare buy-in, as of this moment he’s not voting for the bill. Other Senators such as Roland Burris may follow suit, and a health care bill without the public option will lack progressive votes in the House that may doom it in the lower chamber. The new liberal opposition provides a new wrinkle in the threading of the needle that Reid has attempted, and with a growing consensus on both sides that the current bill is total crap, the Senate effort seems to be on the rocks, the President’s pep talks and evocations of “making history” notwithstanding.
It doesn’t help Democrats that the public is souring big time on the current version of health care. Sorry, the numbers were bad before the public option was dropped, so it’s too much of a stretch to say the opposition is due the bill not being liberal enough. Gallup shows 48%-46% opposition, MSNBC is showing 47%-32% opposition (including a plurality that prefer the status quo to what’s being promised), and CNN showing (a few days ago) a whopping 61%-36% opposition. It’s tempting to blame the bad numbers on those evil GOP fear-mongers and the idiotic voters who supposedly are acting against their own self-interest. That blame would be severely misplaced and markedly delusional. Issues such as cost, government power, quality of care, and individual mandates are what is driving concern about the bill, not some Republican boogeyman with a suddenly wildly successful ad campaign. Blaming GOP obstructionism is pointless as well as anyone who can count can see that the Democrats don’t really need a single Republican vote – they do, however, need to assuage the concerns of their conservative and moderate members.
The Democrats could have avoided this headache by tackling health care in a truly bipartisan matter and holding the negotiations in public as President Obama promised they’d be while campaigning. Instead, the crafting of the stimulus package that saw Republicans locked out of the decision-making process set the tone, and the Democrats proceeded forward with a partisan and ideological approach that has been wrangled behind closed doors and expressed to the American public not in explicit terms that they can understand, but in a huge incomprehensible mishmash of exchanges, mandates and taxes topped off with a manner that says, “No need to worry about the details. Just trust us – we know better than you.”
The Senate may get something passed before Christmas, but Speaker Pelosi has now said she hopes to send something to President Obama by the State of the Union address next year. Resolution won’t come swiftly or easily, and it’s my opinion that what we’ve seen so far isn’t the proper way to go about reforming health care. However, Democrats now seem more concerned about pushing ideological principles than about crafting legislation that addresses the concerns of the American public. The state of health care reform is one of insanity, and Congress is threatening to inflict that insanity on the rest of us to satisfy an arcane desire to “do something.”