Dr. Howard Dean has a prescription for health-care reform:
Scrap the ridiculously compromised Senate bill — from which Majority Leader Harry Reid has, under pressure from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, stripped both the public option and plans to expand Medicare — and use the budget reconciliation process to get over the 60-vote hurdle in the Senate.
“This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate,” the former Vermont governor, presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee chairman said of Reid’s compromise. “Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”
The budget reconciliation process, which was established in its current form by Republicans when they controlled the Senate, allows a omnibus legislation to be broken up and passed in new bills that pertain to budgetary matters.
It is complicated and imperfect, as it would require the passage of insurance regulations in a separate process with different rules.
Is this going to happen?
Probably not, as Senate Democrats would have to break not just with Reid but with President Obama, who is pressing for passage a bill, no matter how watered down it may be.
Additionally — and this is the painful part, considering the broad public support for taking on the insurance industry — there may not be 51 Democratic senators who are willing to go to the mat in order to pass a robust public option or to expand Medicare.
Yet, Dean’s call for scrapping the bill is meaningful in that it may push the envelope enough create space for Senate liberals to pressure Reid to improve the bill in order to win their votes.
As it stands now, Dean is right when he says that Reid’s compromise is a massive giveaway to the very insurance companies that created the health-care crisis that has left roughly 45 million Americans without coverage and at least than many Americans with insufficient coverage.
At least a few liberal senators recognize that reality and are talking openly about opposing the bill.
Illinois Senator Roland Burris, who holds Obama’s old seat, said this week: “I am committed to voting for a bill that achieves the goals of a public option… Until this bill addresses cost, competition and accountability in a meaningful way, it will not win my vote.”
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has also announced that he has not made a final decision whether to back Reid’s compromise bill.
Feingold says is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office score on the compromise. But he has made it clear that he is not happy that the majority leader has agreed to Lieberman’s demands that proposals to control costs by creating genuine competition for private insurers have been removed from the bill.
If liberal senators do not press Reid, House progressives could still apply pressure before a House-Senate conference committee seeks to reconcile differences between a House bill that contains a public option and a Senate bill that probably will not.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, cannot afford to lose more than three votes for the measure which narrowly passed her chamber. And the sounds from some of her liberal colleagues are appropriately threatening.
“I don’t know that I could vote for it,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, said of the Senate bill.
The other CPC co-chair, Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, said: “The Senate has somehow managed to turn the House’s silk purse into a sow’s ear.”
The question now is whether enough Democrats are willing to tell Reid and/or Pelosi that they will not settle for the sow’s ear.