Sunday, December 6, 2009

All Quiet on the Washington Health Reform Front

Arm-twisting, behind-the-scenes wrangling and deal-making, constituent-tweeting-and emailing, and manufacturing legislative sausage tend to be noiseless.

Maybe this quietness is a good thing, a vacation from the usual political rhetoric.

Maybe something good is going on. Maybe in its first week of debate over its health bill, the Senate is coming to grips with political realities.

In its lead editorial of today, the New York Times, that champion of goverment health reform at any cost, does not agree.

Says the Times,

“The first week of debate on the Senate’s health care bill was a depressing mixture of foolish posturing by members of both parties and blatant obstructionism by Republicans. If this is the best the Senate can do, we are in for tough going.”

Indeed Democrats are in for a tough go. Maybe that is a good thing for America, which seems to want to stop and take a look at this big and complicated thing called reform. The percent of Americans favoring the Senate bill has dipped to the high thirties, Obama’s favorability ratings are now under 50 percent, independents are switching party allegiances, and Democrats are increasingly concerned about the November 2010 elections.

Maybe it is time for Democrats, obsessed with the idea of passing health reform in Congress, to quietly sort out their options, which may not include the public option.

Unfortunately senate leader Harry Reid is not the quiet type. He promises passage. His Senate seat may hinge on his success. He is pursuing HarryCare tactics by calling for unusual weekend sessions as he races to finish the sweeping bill by Christmas. Maybe his unusual bill – which will likely cost $2.5 trillion, raise health care premiums by 15%, bankrupt state Medicaid programs, tax everything that moves immediately but delay benefits until 2014-2016 – calls for unusual measures.

What is transpiring behind closed door meetings, including a rare Sunday caucus with President Obama, are weakening support for a public option, cutting billions of dollars for home care and Medical Advantage plans for 13 million seniors, and concocting ways to explain to the young why they will have to pony up $750 each to pay for the old, and to rationalize a program that will likely result in higher taxes, greater debts, fewer doctors, longer waiting lines, more unaffordable care, and less innovation.

These are things to be quiet about, particularly when you are obsessed with passing reform to save your party, while the public is obsessed with higher unemployment and soaring deficits.

There is a time for everything. Maybe this week was a time to be quiet about health reform. And maybe, just maybe, it was time to reconsider. This may not be the time for sweeping health reform.

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