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On Senator Grassley's 'Moderation'

It has been widely reported that the Obama administration has delegated the job of healthcare reform to the top three Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee. Not to Senator Ted Kennedy's Health, Education, and Labor Committee. Not to the committees of Charles Rangel, George Miller, or Henry Waxman in the House of Representatives. And certainly not to the nation's leading advocates of a single-payer healthcare system, as Ralph Nader recently wrote: "The White House door is [thus] closed to the likes of Dr. Quentin Young—a founder of the Physicians for a National Health Program and an old Chicago friend of Obama's; Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who heads Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Drs. Marcia Angell, Stephanie Woolhandler, and David Himmelstein, who are nationally known and accomplished single payer advocates or Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the fast-growing California Nurses Association."[1]

Instead, for some reason, the major players on healthcare reform are six members of the Finance Committee: Max Baucus (D-Montana), the committee's chair; Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), its ranking minority member; and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota); Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico); Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming). The problem is there is little suggestion of reform in the legislative records on a range of issues of five of the gang's six members that might portend any progressive (or even moderate) improvement in our healthcare system.  

On July 22, the five—Baucus, Grassley, Conrad, Snowe, and Enzi—voted to allow citizens who have concealed-firearm permits from the state in which they reside to carry concealed firearms in another state that grants concealed carry permits. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which characterized the legislation as "outrageous," reported that it "would have forced states to allow dangerous individuals to carry loaded guns in public."[2] Although 58 senators voted for the legislation (including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), it required 60 votes to pass.[3]

Less than a month later, beginning on August 11, armed right-wing protestors began showing up with openly carried firearms at Democratic town meetings on healthcare, underscoring the "outrageous" absence of gun sanity in the United States. That five of six members of the "Gang of Six" would support an expansion of concealed-gun laws due to NRA lobbying-arguably even worse than open-carry laws-suggests the extent to which these legislators would be susceptible to lobbying by health insurance companies and related healthcare industries.

Take Max Baucus. In October 2008, the National Rifle Association endorsed Baucus' reelection to the senate in November 2008.[4]  The endorsement was presumably based in part on Baucus' votes in 1998 against requiring gun dealers to sell guns with trigger locks, in 1999 against requiring background checks on firearm sales at gun shows, in 2004 against criminal background checks at gun shows where at least 75 guns are sold, and in 2005 against making gun manufacturers and dealers civilly liable for damages due to the misuse of their products.[5] Baucus' vote in July 2009 for a federal law that would relax concealed-gun laws in several states continued his pattern of supporting reckless gun legislation.

Take also Senator Charles Grassley. In addition to voting to loosen gun-concealment laws last July, Grassley (like Baucus) also voted against background checks at gun shows. Grassley, the "moderate" Republican who is being heavily courted by President Obama on healthcare issues, has a rating of 0 (zero) from the American Public Health Association, "indicating an anti-public health voting record." Grassley is also rated 0 by the League of Conservation Voters, "indicating anti-environment votes."[6]

Snowe and Enzi also voted in 1999 against background checks at gun shows. Like Grassley, Enzi is rated 0 by both the American Public Health Association and the League of Conservation Voters.[7]

In October 2002, Baucus, Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi—four of six members of the Gang of Six—voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. In November 2005, Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi also voted against investigating military contract awards in Iraq and Afghanistan. In June 2006, the same three senators voted against redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq by July 2007. And in March 2007, they voted against redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq by March 2008.[8]

In May 2007, Baucus, Grassley, Conrad, and Enzi voted against factoring global warming into federal project planning.

In December 2005, Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi voted to extend the Patriot Act's wiretap provisions. In August 2007, Grassley, Snowe, Enzi, and Conrad voted to remove the need for FISA warrants for wiretapping abroad. In February 2008, Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi voted against requiring FISA court warrants to monitor U.S.-to-foreign calls.

In September 2006, Grassley and Enzi voted against preserving habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. That same month, Grassley and Enzi voted against requiring the CIA to submit reports to Congress on the CIA's detainees and interrogation methods.

Even while excluding discussion of the influence of the substantial campaign contributions from insurance and healthcare-related industries to the two leaders of the Gang of Six—$1.5 million to Baucus (2005-2010) and $690,000 to Grassley (2005-2010)[9]—there is little historical evidence, especially with respect to Grassley, of an inclination toward progressive or moderate reform on contentious but important issues.

It seems that Obama identified the "moderates" at the Senate Finance Committee as his preferred congressional venue for healthcare reform, not to facilitate any actual reform, but to position the looming insurance and drug industries windfall as moderate reform.[10] This is consistent with Obama's insistence on consulting with Grassley on healthcare reform, and depicting him wrongly as a moderate senator.


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[1] Ralph Nader, "Now Make Me Do It," Common Dreams, August 15, 2009.

[2] Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, at

[3] Ibid. (See "Click Here for U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote on 1618")

[4] "NRA Endorses Max Baucus," October 24, 2008, at

[5] Max Baucus page at OnTheIssues at

[6] Charles Grassley page at OnTheIssues at

[7] Olympia Snowe page at OnTheIssues at; Mike Enzi page at OnTheIssues at

[8] See the Baucus, Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi pages, cited above, at OnTheIssues. Subsequent references to the voting records of these senators is to their pages at OnTheIssues.

[9] See "Max Baucus" at Center for Responsive Politics at;

and "Chuck Grassley" at Center for Responsive Politics at

[10] Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein, "The Health Insurers Have Already Won," Business Week, August 5, 2009; Chris Hedges, "This Isn't Reform, It's Robbery,", August 24, 2009.


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