Posts Tagged ‘Baucus’

I’m Fed Up with This

February 8, 2010

I used to follow the pundits and read the inside stories about the progress of health reform.  During the past year, I’ve avidly read Politico.com and the NY Times, watched Washington Week in Review, and followed #hcr on Twitter to keep up with what’s happening.  But I’m fed up with the way that the Republican spin has become the conventional view of things.

Latest example — in today’s Politico Pulse lead, Chris Frates writes:

President Barack Obama announced Sunday that he will hold yet another meeting on health care reform. But this one comes with two twists – it will be televised and bipartisan. The move seems designed to help counter the public’s distaste for legislation that Democrats crafted behind closed doors and rammed through both chambers with little Republican support. [emphasis mine]

You gotta be kidding.  First, the legislation was not “crafted behind closed doors” any more than most bills in Congress.  On the contrary, the legislation has been available for public scrutiny since the original bills were introduced last spring in the House.  You could even go further back to Sen. Baucus’s white paper in November 2008, which laid out the basic framework for all the bills that followed.  When each subsequent bill was introduced, the Kaiser Family Foundation and many others produced “side-by-side” comparisons so that people could understand the key elements of the bills.  The details (the public option, the insurance exchange, the affordability credits, the excise tax, the Medicare Advantage reductions, the “doughnut hole”, and many more) were agonizingly dissected by the mainstream media, the bloggers, and interest groups.  As Jon Cohn said today,

The idea that Republicans haven’t had a chance to present their ideas on health care reform is a bit mind-boggling. Five separate congressional committees had hearings; each chamber had floor debates. That’s hundreds of hours the GOP had to talk about health care, all of it in public view and televised on C-SPAN.

And the Democrats “rammed it through both chambers”?  Anyone watching the process objectively would say that the Democrats did just about everything they could to accommodate Republican interests and wishes.  First, they wrote a bill that incorporates many Republican ideas in an attempt to get bipartisan support.  It’s built on the existing private insurance and medical care delivery system; it’s not the single-payer plan that many progressives wanted.  It uses market forces to control costs rather than regulation and government price setting.  And it includes pet Republican ideas such as tort reform and allowing people to buy insurance across state lines.  (Ezra Klein has summarized this nicely in a new article.)  Second, the Democrats included the Republicans in almost every step of the process.  The best example was the “Gang of Six” led by Sen. Baucus.  For weeks during the summer and early fall, we watched the Democrats’ attempt to accommodate the wishes of Grassley, Enzi, and Snowe.  But it became clear that the Republicans were only stringing the Democrats along.  They never intended to get on board; they only wanted to drag out the process.  And when the votes were finally taken, it was clear that the Republicans had decided – for purely political reasons – that they would oppose any bill.  For them, defeating the Democrats was more important than reforming health care and saving the lives of the uninsured. Their obstructionist tactics were appalling, and their hypocrisy was sickening.  The basic facts: this is a bipartisan bill that the Republicans chose to oppose, despite the best efforts of Democrats to accommodate them.

But most of the media seem to have been co-opted by the Republican spin machine.  I would have expected better from a so-called independent press.

Let’s Not Lose Sight of the Goals

October 3, 2009

I love Daniel Schorr.  I’ve never met him in person, but I love his voice and his insights about politics on NPR’s Weekend Edition.  But this morning I was disappointed.  After listening to his comments on the Olympics and Iran, I looked forward with anticipation to his thoughts about the Senate Finance Committee’s accomplishments earlier this week on health reform legislation.  When asked whether a “real health care bill” is likely to pass later this year, he said, “Well, it begins to look more [likely] . . . that there will be a bill.  The question is not whether there will be a bill . . . but what will be left in the bill, because so many things have been taken out.”  I could almost hear him sigh.  He went on to talk about the fact that the public option is not a part of the Senate Finance bill, although it might be restored in full or part (through a trigger mechanism or health cooperatives) as the bill moves through Congress.

Let’s step back for a minute.  (This is what I usually rely on Schorr to do for us.)  Where were we a year ago?  Although advocates of health reform were encouraged that the health care crisis was getting a lot of attention in the Presidential election campaign, the outlook was not rosy.  Obama and McCain were neck and neck, and McCain’s reform proposal was so weak as to be laughable.  The pundits and pollsters were predicting that the Democrats would get about 56 seats in the Senate – not enough to overcome a filibuster.  And there was serious concern that even if Obama were elected, health reform would be crowded out by other major crises – the threat of a serious economic depression, the banking collapse, Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran, energy and global climate change, and who knows what else.  In October 2008 the likelihood of serious comprehensive health reform was probably about 25%.

What has happened during the last 12 months?  Well, Obama was elected with a clear mandate to do something about health reform, and his proposal was pretty solid.  The Democrats surprisingly won 60 seats in the Senate, although it took months for the Minnesota recount to be completed.  The President and the Democratic leaders in Congress have made health reform a top priority and haven’t let other critical issues get in the way.  Obama selected a top-flight team of policy experts and – more importantly – politically savvy professionals to push health reform.  (Sen. Baucus and others on the Hill had started doing this a year earlier.)  Using the lessons from the defeat of the Clinton plan in the 1990s, Obama set the overall goals and framework for reform but let Congress take the lead in creating the specific legislation.  The administration worked closely with health care industry groups to get their support for reform, or at least reduce the likelihood they would torpedo it.  A strong consensus emerged about the basic shape of the reform package, and five Congressional Committees have passed very similar bills.  We’re on the verge of actually getting something done.

What’s in the bills? Is it real reform or something watered down?  As the President reminded us in his September 9, we need to stay focused on the goals and not get tangled up in arguments about the ways we achieve those goals.  Reform advocates have been working for decades to improve access to health care for all Americans, improve the quality of health care, and reform the system in a financially responsible and sustainable way.  The bills in Congress would make major progress on all three of these goals, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.  The bills can be improved, of course, but we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  The inclusion of a public plan option should not be the litmus test of a good bill, despite what Howard Dean says; it’s only a means to an end, and there are other ways to get there.  We should focus instead on whether the final reform plan would make real progress on the three critical goals of access, quality and affordability.  In the end, it seems increasingly likely that we will pass the most important and far-reaching domestic legislation in many years – one that will help millions of people who cannot afford decent health care – and we should not lose sight of that.

But I still love you, Daniel Schorr.  We all need a healthy perspective on the major issues of our day, and I’ll listen in again next weekend.