As of (very) early this morning, healthcare reform has become a near certainty... Although, maybe we should be calling it healthcare near-reform. What was a good bill in the House of Representatives -- Stupak aside -- became a deeply compromised bill in the Senate. Let's not forget that the bill had an original deadline of August, but Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided against woking through the summer recess -- something Nancy Pelosi was willing to do in the House. This killed all momentum behind the it and dropped the whole debate in the lap of the town hall crazies. Had Reid stuck to the deadline -- or, at least, made the effort to -- we might've had a very different bill. Add to this Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' irrational fetish for bipartisanship and we see the Senate Democratic leadership dropping the ball at almost every opportunity. Given the self-constructed obstacles people like Reid and Baucus put up for themselves, we can be excused for saying that seeing even this much-weaker bill move forward is a Christmas miracle. Democratic leadership didn't entirely blow it, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Baucus' snipe hunt for Republican votes looks especially foolish now, with the every Republican voting to sustain the filibuster that was broken last night. There was never a hope in hell of a bipartisan bill -- good or bad.
But the Senate leadership wasn't alone in turning a fairly decent bill into a collection of compromises. Sen. Russ Feingold says he'll vote for the final bill, but he's not happy about it. And he places the blame for the loss of a public option on a lack of leadership from another branch of government.
I've been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and bring health care spending down. I continued that fight during recent negotiations, and I refused to sign onto a deal to drop the public option from the Senate bill. Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle. Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included.
But while the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high. This bill significantly expands coverage and helps protect Wisconsinites from high costs and insurance company abuses, such as denying or restricting coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The bill also improves a flawed Medicare formula that denies Wisconsin fair reimbursement rates, encourages the kind of low-cost, high-value care practiced in our state, increases access to home and community-based long-term care, and reduces federal budget deficits by $132 billion over the next decade.
Throughout this entire debate, the White House has been largely AWOL. And this Senate bill shows it.
In President Obama's defense, this has been his approach to nearly everything -- and it's been working. It just hasn't worked here. But the fact is that you don't play the same strategy every game. When it becomes clear that everything's going all to hell, you tweak your strategy and try to change the game. That didn't happen.
The word you'll hear most to describe this bill -- even from supporters -- will be "flawed." But it's literally better than the nothing we have now. What we call a "healthcare system" isn't a system at all. This bill makes things somewhat more systematic, but we still won't have an actual system. What we'll have is a better market.
We'll also have something to improve on. I've said here before that you can't improve something that doesn't exist and, while I was talking about a public option at the time, I'll take this. If you can say anything about the bill the Senate passed last night, it's that it's eminently improvable. Something exists and this will be revisited.
In arguing in favor of the bill and in speaking for her late husband Ted, Victoria Kennedy wrote in the Washington Post yesterday:
-- Insurance protections like the ones Ted fought for his entire life would become law.
-- Thirty million Americans who do not have coverage would finally be able to afford it. Ninety-four percent of Americans would be insured. Americans would finally be able to live without fear that a single illness could send them into financial ruin.
-- Insurance companies would no longer be able to deny people the coverage they need because of a preexisting illness or condition. They would not be able to drop coverage when people get sick. And there would be a limit on how much they can force Americans to pay out of their own pockets when they do get sick.
-- Small-business owners would no longer have to fear being forced to lay off workers or shut their doors because of exorbitant insurance rates. Medicare would be strengthened for the millions of seniors who count on it.
-- And by eliminating waste and inefficiency in our health-care system, this bill would bring down the deficit over time.
Better, inarguably. "Health care would finally be a right, and not a privilege, for the citizens of this country," she wrote.
It's been pointed out that getting any sort of reform in his first term is a tremendous accomplishment for President Obama -- and he got this far in his first year of that term. It is a tremendous accomplishment and, despite its many flaws, is a net gain for the nation.
But you've got to wonder how much more Barack Obama and Senate leaders could've gotten if they'd actually shown up for it.
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