Back to the Drawing Board

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USA Today

Back to the Drawing Board

Without a public option, Senate bill is a sop to the insurance industry.

The Senate health care bill betrays the promise of fundamental "change" Democrats made during the 2008 election. It cloaks a handout to the health industry in the veneer of "reform."

Though it includes some positive subsidies and regulatory tweaks, the bill creates few mechanisms to halt premium increases, bust insurance monopolies and end price discrimination - and it includes no public insurance option.

Worst of all, it doesn't actually extend "new coverage" to 30 million more Americans. Through the "individual mandate," it simply makes people criminals if they don't buy expensive insurance from the private corporations that helped create the health care crisis in the first place.

President Obama says this legislation "stand(s) up to the special interests" - but after spending millions of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying, the special interests clearly disagree. When the Senate bill was unveiled, health stocks skyrocketed. Meanwhile, an insurance insider told reporters, "We win."

For these reasons, the Senate must vote "no" and start over.

Notice the loudest argument against that move is procedural, not substantive. While Senate Democrats acknowledge the bill's shortcomings, they nonetheless echo Princess Leia's melodramatic plea in Star Wars, insisting their bill is our "only hope." This, from lawmakers who didn't even allow floor votes on a stronger bill.

The "only hope" rationale, of course, is an artificially manufactured assumption, not some Law of Nature. It's the same assumption that justified unregulated bank bailouts and hasty war resolutions - and it is a canard because it comes from the very politicians controlling the legislative schedule. Indeed, there's no concrete reason Democrats cannot take a month to rewrite this bill.

Some counter that quick passage is necessary to immediately help the uninsured. But since many of this legislation's minimal benefits don't begin until 2014, there's no obvious rush.

Others cite the aftermath of 1994's health care defeat as proof Congress will drop the issue if this bill dies. Unlike the past, though, Democrats are publicly staking their entire name on passing a bill. As Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., recounted, the White House says "everything can be compromised except our ultimate goal of getting something done."

To date, such desperation has compromised away nearly every genuine reform that might have been in this legislation. But if the Senate now musters a "no" vote, that same desperation means Democrats will almost certainly go back to the drawing board. And when they do, public outrage at the current bill's corruption will compel them to fulfill, rather than ignore, their original promise of "change we can believe in."

David Sirota

David Sirota is a best-selling author whose new book "Back to Our Future" is now available. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and is a contributing writer at Salon.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

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