Liberals insist that any health care bill must include a new government-run plan, but moderate Democrats say such a bill couldn’t get through the Senate.
As President Obama and Democrats in Congress continue their push to overhaul the nation’s health care system this year, it’s turning out that their biggest obstacle is not Republicans, but each other.
The dilemma is simple: moderate Democrats see the need to scale back legislation, but liberals yearn for something bolder. The evolving dynamic is similar to the one that ultimately killed comprehensive immigration reform during the Bush administration when Republicans tried to compromise to win over Democrats, but incurred the wrath of conservatives in the process.
The key sticking points on health care involve whether at a time of unprecedented debt, the nation can absorb the massive cost of insuring everybody, and whether Congress should create a new government-run plan, which proponents call the “public option.”
In recent weeks moderate Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman came out opposed to the government-run option, while fellow Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Dianne Feinstein have publicly said that there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass such a plan.
Another moderate Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson, told the Hill that “There is a risk of not doing anything by trying to do too much.” He added, “I think there is going to be a narrowing-down as time goes on.”
Yet while a pared down piece of legislation could satisfy moderate Democrats and maybe even win over a few Republicans, many liberals view that as an unacceptable outcome. From their perspective, legislation centered on providing subsidies for individuals to purchase private insurance is not genuine reform, but merely a case of pouring more money into a broken system.
“I will not vote for any health care that does not include a public option,” Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison declared this week. “I will not do it, that’s a guaranteed no vote and I will not be dissuaded from that.”
Ellison is not alone. He’s a part of the House Progressive Caucus, whose co-chair, Rep. Lynn Woosley, has said repeatedly that a majority of the 80-member bloc would not vote for any bill that did not include a “robust” government-run plan, which typically means one modeled after Medicare. This is the formulation that is opposed most vigorously by the American Medical Association because it would drive down reimbursement rates for doctors, and by insurers who do not believe they would be able to compete with a government plan that had access to tax dollars and would benefit from the fact that government would be writing the rules of the game.
If Woosley is serious about liberal House members voting against a compromise bill, that means scaled-back legislation could die in the House even if some Republicans defect and vote for it. And on the flip side, should the House go ahead and pass a bill with a strong government-run plan, it would have a tough time getting the necessary votes in the Senate.
As a result, instead of attacking Republicans, liberal activists have focused their strategy on pressuring a handful of moderate Senate Democrats who hold the keys to health care legislation.
“Self-appointed spokespeople like Senator Feinstein and Senator Conrad [have been] lately saying, ‘Well, it’s a matter of getting enough Democratic votes,’” Roger Hickey, co-director of the activist group Campaign for America’s Future, explained on a Tuesday conference call. “They are the Democratic votes that we need to step up and pass this.”
Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary during the Clinton administration, suggested on the call that “it’s important for the President to make it crystal clear to Democrats and Republicans alike that he will not sign a bill that does not have a public option in it.”
On Thursday, thousands of liberal activists gathered in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill to rally for the passage of health care legislation, and attendees heard speeches from a number of lawmakers and Sopranos star Edie Falco, who asked them to keep up the fight for the government plan.
The crowd waved signs such as “Health Care, Not Profits” and “Affordable: Yes/Premiums: No.” At one point, they sung a ditty, “We Want Health Care,” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
“We’re counting on you to go across the street, and convince, and persuade, and cajole and do whatever you need to do to get a strong public option,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown hollered, the Capitol dome behind him.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online