Just some random thoughts while we see if the Democrats can muster enough votes to enact health care reform. None of them are worth a separate post (and may not be worth being in any post), but I thought I’d clear the decks before the real fun starts over the next few weeks.
It’s Franken’s Fault: If health care reform fails I blame Senator Al Franken. Elected by a mere 206 votes, Senator Franken became the 60th Democratic vote, the super-majority the caucus needed to overcome, in theory, any Republican filibuster. This enabled President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress to treat health care reform as a Democrats-only endeavor. Yes, Senator Max Baucus tried to work out a compromise with a few Republicans (and actually got one of them to vote for the Senate Finance bill). But liberals in the party and in the land of pundits were constantly and consistently pushing reforms to the left. For example, Democrats insisted health care reform include a government-run health insurance plan far longer than would have been the case if they lacked a super-majority. Want proof? The public option fell to the wayside within 58 hours of the loss of their super-majority.
Of course, liberal Democrats had already made the mistake of believing that all Democrats think alike. Proud to be the party of inclusion, they forgot that they had included moderates and conservatives into their ranks. They somehow thought they could get Senators Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln and other centrists to go along with the liberal wish list for health care reform. Having a super-majority masked this illusion. So if 104 Minnesotans had voted the other way, who knows, health care reform might have passed months ago.
Republicans Will Vote to Keep the Sweeteners. Republicans hate being called the Party of No, but they’ve earned the epitaph. They seem to have adopted a political strategy that Democrats can achieve no victories. Whether that’s to embrace the Tea Party advocates who want the federal government to go away, acquiescence to Rush Limbaugh who is on record saying he wants President Obama to fail, or, who knows, a sincere expression of their public policy beliefs, the outcome is they act in near lockstep to defeat any proposal with the Administration’s finger prints on it. Which may create an interesting spectacle: Republicans voting to preserve the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase.
These are among the legislative sweeteners added to the Senate health care reform bill to gain the support of Senators Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. And to deprive President Obama of a victory on health care reform Republican may need to defeat legislation to repeal them. Here’s why:
Under the legislative dance Democrats are likely to use to pass health care reform, the House will pass the Senate’s version health care reform bill. Since the Senate bill already passed that legislation – with a super-majority no less, House passage sends it directly to the President’s desk for his signature. At the same time Democrats will introduce legislation aimed at modifying the Senate legislation to, among other provisions, repeal the sweeteners, bribes, backroom deals, whatever you want to call them. Among those “other provisions,” by the way, are a number of items on Republican’s health care reform wish list. To deny Democrats the a victory on health care reform, Republicans may have to defeat the clean-up legislation – a vote to keep the sweeteners and to defeat their own reform proposals. The word “ironic” comes to mind – along with many others.
Politicians Need an Asterisk Projector. President Obama likes to say that “If you like your current health insurance you can keep it.” Well, in theory maybe. For awhile perhaps. But even in the short-term there’s a huge caveat: there’s no guarantee you can keep your health insurance in the current health insurance system and the reform bills do nothing to change that. When employers changes coverage, their employees change coverage. Whether they want to make that change or not. If a carrier drops a particular health plan in the individual market, insureds have to choose another plan. So when President Obama makes this pronouncement, he should project an asterisk over his head to cover these contingencies.
When Republicans condemn Democrats for even thinking about using the reconciliation process to pass the health care reform clean-up legislation discussed above they should project an asterisk. That’s because they were very happy to pass tax cuts a few years ago using the reconciliation process. So what Republicans mean when they oppose reconciliation is that they’re for it when it’s helpful to them and they think it’s un-American when it’s not.
For a Rookie He’s Gotten Pretty Far. Regardless of what you think of President Obama’s ideas or his tactics, you have to give him credit for getting further with health care reform than any of his predecessors. Pretty impressive for someone who was a State Senator just five years ago.
Whether It’ll Make Things Better or Worse is A Guess. Of course, it would be nice if the health care reform package he may get through was better than what will emerge from Congress, but let’s face it: no reform proposal would be popular. This is one of those issues in which there are no popular options. Everyone recognizes the status quo can’t endure. Everyone knows every proposal to fix the system is gravely flawed.
My first political mentor, Cathy O’Neill, used to say, however, “The test of whether to vote for something is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s better than what we’ve got.” When it comes to health care reform, however, there’s no way to know if a particular bill will make things “better” or not. The system is too complex. The opportunity for unintended consequences is too great. It’s likely only comprehensive reform can fix the system, but there’s no way to truly understand what comprehensive reform will accomplish until well after it’s implemented. Not a reassuring prospect, but it’s reality.
We’ve Only Just Begun. Let’s say health care reform passes. That’s just the start. States and regulators will need to interpret and implement the reforms. Future Congress’ may seek to change or repeal the bills. Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “It’s not over until it’s over.” When it comes to health care reform, “It’s not over even when it’s over.”