Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is, famously, an ex-boxer.
Put an emphasis on “ex.”
As the health-care debate made its way to the Senate, the chamber’s top Democrat refused to take tactical steps that would have allowed for the passage of meaningful legislation with a majority vote.
No, no, no, Reid argued. He did not need to alter the filibuster rule that required 60 votes to act.
No, no, no, Reid argued. He did not need to consider using the budget reconciliation process that Republicans had employed to move controversial legislation when they were the majority party in the Senate.
No, no, no, Reid argued. He could use the power of persuasion to get the chamber’s 58 Democrats, two independents and maybe even a few Republicans to vote for real reform.
Reid was convinced that he could wrangle the likes of Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Sort-of-Democrat Ben Nelson into a super-majority that would matter. And why not? He had protected Lieberman, in particular, when other Democratic senator’s had questioned why an active campaigner for John McCain’s 2008 Republican presidential run should enjoy the benefits of seniority and membership in the majority caucus.
Besides, Reid bet, he would have the muscular presidency of Barack Obama to help him get the job done.
Reid bet wrong.
Obama never really engaged with the health care debate, leaving the heavy lifting to Congressional leaders.
Lieberman and Nelson — along with several quieter outliers within the Democratic caucus — never bought into the idea that anything serious needed to be done to address the reckless profiteering of insurance companies that created a status quo where close to 45 million Americans were uninsured and another 45 million were under-insured.
On Monday night, after meeting with members of his caucus, the majority leader was preparing to give in to public demands by Lieberman and Nelson that he drop the Medicare buy-in provision that had been proposed as a replacement to the government-run health insurance option favored by a clear majority of Americans.
So, as it stands now, Reid appears to be ready to try and pass a health-care “reform” bill that includes neither a public option or and expansion of Medicare to cover millions of uninsured Americans in the 55-to-64 age bracket.
In other words, the legislation Reid will try to get passed before Christmas is not health-care reform any longer, it is insurance reform.
And even that is giving the proposal more credit than is probably deserves. The legislation expands access to health care to millions of Americans. That’s a good thing — perhaps even good enough to merit the support of reformers who are determined to get more care to more Americans. But it does so by setting up a scheme that uses scant federal resources to dramatically enrich insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And it fails to establish the government-backed competition, in the form of a public option of Medicare expansion, that might have kept insurance companies in line.
Thus, at the very best, just half the goal of serious reform is met. More Americans will have health-care. But that progress will be purchased at enormous, and potentially unsustainable, cost to the taxpayers.
A gleeful Lieberman exclaimed Monday night that: “We’re going to regulate the insurance companies and we’re going to cut the costs. That’s tremendous.”
He was wrong on all three accounts.
Because of him — or, more significantly, because the majority leader bent to him — insurance companies are going to get a whole lot richer while costs skyrocket. That’s not tremendous, unless you happen to be an insurance company CEO.
To believe otherwise would be to engage in the fantasy that says Harry Reid has managed this mess well.
He has not.
Reid got sucker punched. And real reform is down for the count.