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Democrats Don't Deliver Healthcare Reform... Again | The Nation

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Democrats Don't Deliver Healthcare Reform... Again

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AP ImagesSenate Finance Committee members, Sept. 22, 2009, during opening remarks of the committee's markup of healthcare legislation.

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Adam Howard
Adam Howard is the former Assistant Web Editor of The Nation and currently the News Editor of The Grio.

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With the revelation last night/this morning that veteran Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd(CT) and Byron Dorgan (ND) are not seeking re-electionthis year, the mainstream press is going wild with speculation that theseretirements herald doom for the Democrats in this year's midtermelections. This is despite that fact that they are almost a year awayand that six, count 'em (Bunning, Brownback, LeMieux, Bond,Gregg, and Voinovich) six, GOP senators are retiring this year as well asseveral other Republicans in the House.Still, a narrative is forming (and we all know how powerful politicalnarratives can be) and if Obama and the Democrats don'tget in front of this soon it could become a self-fulfillingprophesy--the pundits have decided it's 1994 all over again.="http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thegaggle/archive/2010/01/05/gop-retirements-rising-in-the-house.aspx">="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/01/nd-dem-sen-byron-dorgan-retiring.php?ref=tn">="http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/news/2010/01/banking_chief_dodd_to_leave_senate_sources.php">

CORRECTION: This article has been corrected--the original text incorrectly named Sen. Ben Nelson among the Democrats who voted down the public option.

For those youngsters out there who may not remember, in November of '94Congressional approval was at an all-time low and President Clinton's approval numbers weremired in the low 40s after his failure to pass healthcare reform. The result was a Republican landslide that dominated Congress until 2006. But2010 can be different and in some ways it already is. The public clearlyhas a lot more good will in the bank for Obama, he remains close to orat 50 percent approval in most public opinion polls--despite roughly six months of consistently bad press. Healthcare reform will likely be passed by the end of this month, albeit a comprised bill, but a political and strategic victory nonetheless. In addition if the Democrats get aggressive on immigration, education and climate change (which are all on the legislative agenda for this year) and continue to rack up victories it'll be easier to contrast themselves with "TheParty of No". Naturally there needs to be significant movement on jobstoo by the White House and Democrats in Congress, my hunch is that 10percent number hovers like a shadow over anything the party in powerdoes.="http://www.gallup.com/poll/124949/approval-obama-starts-2010-shaky-spot.aspx">

True, losing Dorgan (as JohnNichols writes) is a significant blow. He was a strong progressivein an undeniably right-leaning state and it will be exceedingly difficultfor any other Democrat to replace him. ChrisDodd, on the other hand, despite having many virtues, was totally tainted by scandal(even Michael Moore went after him in Capitalism: A LoveStory) and was likely to lose his re-election campaign. Hisdeparture, while perhaps bittersweet, clears theway for Connecticut's popular Democratic attorney general, RichardBlumenthal, to capture his seat. It seems unlikely to me that aprogressive state like Connecticut would send a Republican to representtheir state alongside nominal Independent Joe Lieberman.="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/01/dodds-retirement-could-improve-dem-chances-to-hold-seat.php">="http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion/475969/i_capitalism_a_love_story_i_an_early_review">="http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/512541/dorgan_retirement_will_rob_senate_of_one_of_its_last_populists">

 

Permit me to borrow one our president's most famous turns ofphrase--Carrie Prejean's story could "only happen in America." Most ofus who don't consume a daily diet of shows like Access Hollywoodand TMZ would normally not have heard of Miss Prejean, but now that she'sbecome a regular on Fox News, an author and poster child for "Palinized" conservative women everywhere--she's almost unavoidable. Most recently she appeared on Larry King Live, where she repeatedly snapped at the septuagenarian host for being "inappropriate."

 

 

For the uninitiated, a quick recap:

 

 

Carrie Prejean was competing the Donald Trump-funded Miss USA pageant, and was representing California. Apparently she was well ahead in points when she reached the question-and-answer segment. Openly gay blogger Perez Hilton, serving as a judge, asked her about her position on same-sex marriage. To which she replied (emphasis mine):

 

For weeks now it's seemed more and more evident that instead of significant, meaningful healthcare reform, we are--if we're lucky--going to wind up with something akin to health insurance reform. These reforms will be pretty unassailable (who could oppose making it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against pre-existing conditions, for instance?) but a far cry from what just a couple months ago seemed not just possible but probable--reform that included a robust, affordable public option accessible to all Americans.

Why has the healthcare reform battle disintegrated so rapidly? Certainly the seemingly endless barrage of right wing lies and downright insanity over the summer didn't help. Neither did the White House's lackadaisical approach to countering it. But at the end of the day, real reform--the public option, considered today by the Finance Committee--should have had the votes it needed to pass. Instead it failed by fifteen votes to eight, with five Democrats voting against it.

Four out of five major committees have delivered in one form or another what 65 percent of the American public wants: a government-run public health insurance option. President Obama supports a public option, the majority of medical profession does, and without it there is no way healthcare costs can be brought down in any significant way.

And yet our Democrat-controlled Congress can't get its act together. Today, five Democratic senators rejected the most progressive version of the public option to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller's amendment. Remember their names, because they should go down as traitors to what the Democratic party should stand for: Blanche Lincoln, Bill Nelson, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad and Tom Carper.

That's right--we're not talking about thirty to forty Democratic senators gumming up the works, we're talking about a handful of woefully out-of-touch, heartless politicians who aren't clever enough to realize the obvious political upshot of seeing healthcare reform succeed.

This group of senators is not only letting their constituents and the rest of the American people down--they're also setting the stage for the failure of President Obama's top domestic priority and most likely a reversal of fortune in the 2010 midterm elections. What adviser has persuaded them to believe that by slowing down and/or neutering healthcare they will somehow burnish their reputation and improve their electoral position? Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus's name is now the equivalent of a cuss word in most Democratic households and with good reason.

It's times like these that even the most patient progressives find themselves at loss for why they even bother to back the Democratic party. It's no longer the lesser of two evils; in this case it's the equal of the other evil. Certainly the debate is not over and this may not be the public option's last stand--whatever ultimately emerges from the Finance Committee will have to reconciled with the other Senate bills, plus whatever emerges from the House, which Speaker Pelosi has insisted will include a public option. But this is a devastating blow to all of us who have been holding out hope that our elected officials could actually still do their jobs and make positive change happen for ordinary Americans.

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