One of the main Democratic stumbling blocks to health care reform hasn't always been one of the main Democratic stumbling blocks to health care reform. At least, in theory. Steve Benen has dug up a letter [PDF] from Sens. Kennedy and Baucus to President Obama written in April.
That letter urges the new president to get to work on healthcare reform right pronto, saying, "We must act swiftly, because the cost of inaction is too high for individuals, families, businesses, state and federal governments" and that Baucus and Kennedy are ready to work with congress and the White House "to achieve these long-overdue reforms without delay." Ted Kennedy was the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions [HELP] Committee, while Max Baucus -- our main Democratic stumbling block to health care reform -- chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Ted and Max wrote that they would write to bills to pass each respective committee, then get right on the ball, making sure the two pieces of legislation would be "quickly merged into a single bill for consideration on the Senate floor."
"With your continued leadership and commitment, and working together, we remain certain that our goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished with the urgency that the American people rightly demand," the senators wrote. They got that whole "fierce urgency of now" thing. Americans were going to have healthcare reform and yesterday wasn't soon enough. Then, as Benen explains, it all went to hell:
[W]hile Baucus agreed in April that lawmakers must "act swiftly," "without delay," and "with swift action," Baucus now believes that his own Sept. 15 deadline for his committee -- already three months past the original target date he set for himself -- should be ignored.
Worse, in November, Baucus talked in some detail about the kind of reform bill he wanted to see. His vision included a Health Insurance Exchange, universal coverage, an individual mandate, a public option, and subsidies up to 400% of the poverty line. And he was prepared to deliver it -- after all, as he noted in his letter, he'd been working on it with Kennedy for a year. Baucus, at the time, supported the same kind of reform progressive Democrats now want, but which Baucus' committee won't support due to opposition from the Republican minority.
So, what happened? Kennedy, obviously, fell ill and was unable to complete his work, but Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) capably picked up the slack and delivered an excellent bill, right on time. Baucus, meanwhile, proceeded to take a far different direction in order to work on finding a "bipartisan" solution with conservative members of the discredited minority that doesn't support health care reform.
In other words, somewhere along the line, Baucus lost his goddam mind. He decided that everyone had to be happy with the final bill, including those who'd decided at the outset that they hated the whole idea. Not surprisingly, he hasn't gotten very far. The Republicans on his committee -- mostly in the form of Sen. Charles Grassley -- seem to be playing Baucus for a chump, using the his misplaced devotion to pie-in-the-sky bipartisanship to undermine and slow progress every step of the way. It's gotten so bad that he practically had to swear on a stack of Bibles that he wants a public option -- which, of course, doesn't mean a damned thing. He may want a pony too, but it's not going to be in the final draft of his committee's bill. The Magic 8-Ball says the chances for his committee's bill are not good; bipartisanship was murdered in its bed during a bitterly partisan August recess. No one has any appetite for it anymore and the Finance Committee's bill isn't strictly required. Baucus may be busy herding cats for no reason.
But if bipartisanship has become crazy, some people's partisanship has become crazier. While Baucus and company entertain dreams of dogs and cats living together, the house has devolved into complete, babbling lunacy.
On Wednesday Rep. Michele Bachmann was part of a star-studded “teletownhall” meeting to discuss health-care reform. The event, billed “Keeping Faith with the Unborn,” was sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group. The organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, claimed that there were some 350,000 listeners on the line.
Bachmann was joined by North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, most famous for calling Matthew Shepard’s murder was a “hoax,” and former Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, who made national headlines by refusing to concede after losing her re-election contest November. But even with such veteran political pugilists sharing the phone line, Bachmann managed to distinguish herself during the 90-minute phone call.
Bachmann, Foxx, and Musgrave managed to repeat nearly every lie told about healthcare reform. All doctors would be required to perform abortions (I guess even anesthesiologists and ear, nose, and throat specialists), for example. The "death panels" were 100% real -- "Thank God that Sarah Palin said that," Bachmann said. "These are true."
Luckily for pro-reformers, Bachmann's plan to stop this dreaded healthcare reform (that she and her fellow wingnuts seem to have made up) is to do nothing. Or, at least, mostly nothing. "That’s really where this battle will be won -- on our knees in prayer and fasting," she said. "Remember: faith without works is dead. So we’re asking you to do all of it: pray, fast, believe, trust the Lord, but also act."
If you want my advice, just stick to the praying and fasting. That's how we built the interstate highway system, won WWII, and got to the moon. We fasted and prayed these things into existence. The wizard knows her stuff.
Looking at Baucus and Bachmann, you might come to the conclusion that the healthcare reform debate is bad for your head. Max Baucus has been taken over by an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" version of himself and Shelly Bachmann's counseling sorcery -- if that fails, she'll probably move on to human sacrifice. Clearly, if you think about this stuff for too long, you're going to snap.
One group seems immune to whatever crazy-making radiation healthcare reform emits. One demographic isn't demented by thinking about this too much. And that demographic most likely includes you. Pollster Ruy Teixeira takes a look at the public and finds us pretty much unchanged from where we were before everyone else started losing their minds.
In the last month, the public’s view of Congress’ health care reform efforts has certainly darkened. But it’s striking how little change there has been in the public’s view of the basic elements of health care reform as articulated by President Barack Obama and progressives. These essentials of health care reform remain not just popular, but very popular. Consider these data from the just-released August edition of the Kaiser Health Care Tracking poll.
In the poll, 68 percent favor “requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with financial help for those who can’t afford it.” One month ago, the figure in the Kaiser tracking poll was an identical 68 percent. Similarly, 70 percent favor “offering tax credits to help people buy private health insurance,” which is actually up a point from July’s 69 percent. And 68 percent favor “requiring employers to offer health insurance to their workers or pay money into a government fund that will pay to cover those without insurance,” up 4 points from July’s 64 percent.
And, on the public option, 59% supported before and 59% support it now. Crazy people with signs equating Obama to Hitler to the contrary, we're pretty level-headed about this whole thing and all the histrionics haven't made much of a dent. All in all, 63% believe we need reform.
We aren't crazy. We've managed to keep it together throughout this whole thing. It's the people in Washington who've gone goofy. You're fine.
Unfortunately, you're not driving this bus. The crazies are. I think now would be an excellent time to try a little backseat driving.
Get updates via Twitter