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Dear President Obama: Time to Stop Letting Corporations Write the Health Care Bill

When Max Baucus unveiled an early version of the Senate bill in September, an ex-WellPoint VP named Liz Fowler was listed as the author. Only a few weeks earlier, the Huffington Post exposed the sweetheart deal negotiated between the White House and PhRMA in exchange for $150 million in political advertising. And Harry Reid kept Byron Dorgan's popular drug reimportation amendment off the floor of the Senate until PhRMA could whip enough votes to defeat it because it violated that deal.

Dorgan accused the White House of tanking the amendment and retired shortly thereafter. And last night, Martha Coakley paid the price for those deals too. The only real question this morning is, how more Democrats will lose their seats before they decide to stand up to the corporations?

Reports on the Death of Health Care Are Premature

In the wake of Martha Coakley's defeat, both Representative Barney Frank and Senator Jim Webb have said that jamming a health care bill through before Scott Brown can be seated is not the right thing to do. And they're right. Any attempt to do so will look like an effort to bypass the will of the public to facilitate a giant corporate giveaway.

But many on the Hill are also saying that the Massachusetts defeat means that health care reform is dead, fearful that what happened to Martha Coakley will happen to them, too, in 2010.

That's about as feasible as Wile E. Coyote trying to turn around and run back across the bridge that is crumbling behind him. There's only one way to go.

As Jerome Armstrong says, "The Democrats have less than 10 months to start governing as a people-powered party, or they will lose both the House and the Senate." The damage is done. Unless the Democrats move aggressively to right the perception that they are the party of backroom deals and massive corporate bailouts, 2010 will be more of the same.

Step One: Stop Letting Joe Lieberman Run the Party

There will certainly be no shortage of those ready to extract the wrong lessons from the Coakley loss. Joe Lieberman, Mr. 31%, says it's a sign that people "don't like all the partisanship and deal-making here in Washington" and that "they're really skeptical about this health care bill." He doesn't mention that it's his health care bill they don't like, or that making the bill was made unpopular as the price of his vote.

Step Two: Independent Approval in Swing Districts Soars With Addition of a Public Option

A new FDL/SurveyUSA poll of NY-01 shows how Lieberman's bill is affecting the race in that district, one of many that the Democrats are at risk of losing in the next election. Incumbent Tim Bishop would have a narrow lead over GOP challenger Randy Altschuler if the race were held today in a contest that was rated "lean Democratic" by Cook's Political Report.

People were pretty evenly split when asked if they supported a bill with a mandate to buy private insurance, with 50% saying it's a good idea and 44% saying it's a bad idea. Support fell dramatically when they were told that they would be fined up to 2% of their income for failure to comply, with 40% saying it's a good idea and 57% saying it's a bad idea. But when the option to buy into a government-run Medicare program was added, 63% of likely voters (66% of independents) supported it and 33% opposed even with the fine. Even support among Republicans shot up 23%.

Polling done for HCAN last September found similar results nationally, indicating that likely 2010 voters "oppose a mandate to purchase private insurance by 64% to 34% but support a mandate with a choice of private or public insurance by 60% to 37%."

Joe Lieberman was personally responsible for killing the public option/Medicare expansion in the Senate bill.

Step Three: Be Bold, Take On the Corporations With "Sidecar Reconciliation"

The good news? Nobody needs Lieberman's vote to pass either one any more. The non-budgetary "fixes" like banning the exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions have already passed the Senate. A public option -- or an expansion of Medicare -- can be added through reconciliation, which takes 51 votes. The Republicans certainly had no fear of using reconciliation when George Bush was in office. And the Democrats are going to need to do so in order to make good on their promise to fix the excise tax to benefit of the middle class, which will cost roughly $60 billion. But their options for doing that are limited by the process itself: they can pay for it by the savings from a government program like a public option or an expansion of Medicare. Or, they can piss everyone off and raise taxes.

That looks to be where Gerald Nadler and Anthony Weiner are headed. They indicate that "the only way they could sign on to the Senate bill is if it was accompanied immediately, or even preceded by, a separate bill, making a number of major preemptive changes to what they regard as an inferior package," per Brian Beutler.

It's called sidecar reconciliation. And the 65 members of the House who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a public option should be looking into it seriously tonight.

Ezra Klein says that "a Democratic Party that would abandon their central initiative this quickly isn't a Democratic Party that deserves to hold power." I would add that if they don't stick to the principles they profess to hold and stand up to the lobbyists they've kowtowed to from the start, "holding power" won't be anything they have to worry about.

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