At the end of last year I posted my thoughts on the Health Care Debate and in summary said that I supported the idea that something needed to be done and some of the specifics I was in support of. I also reminded all of us that just because two bills had been passed by the houses of Congress did not mean that a final bill was a certainty. Once two separate bills are passed, it usually goes to a conference committee made up of both members of the House and Senate where a final bill is negotiated and taken back to both bodies for a simple up or down vote.
Well the Democratic leadership in both houses have decided to forego this formality and instead what is referred to as legislative ping-pong. Essentially, both houses will continue to amend their bills until they are identical. This avoids the need for a conference as the identical bills can be sent to President Obama presumably for his signature. Normally, I would not have a problem with this approach, but the way the Democrats are actually conducting these negotiations is completely out of the public eye. The democratic leaders are going to the White House for sessions with the President’s key advisors in a manner that completely shuts off the discussion from public scrutiny. The only updates that the public gets are the reports of what comes out of the people involved in the negotiations. With this approach, I cannot support the President who had promised to make government more transparent. This essentially hides the legislative process from the public and I believe sets a bad precedent for the future. Republicans have tried to make some hay out of this, but obviously, this whole story is taking a back seat to the tragedy that occurred in Haiti this week.
That being said, as I write this, it appears a deal has been reached on one of the key roadblocks to the bill – funding mechanisms. Organized labor was supporting the House bill as it funded the program through increased taxes on the wealthy, where the Senate bill taxed high end health care plans, many times referred to as “Cadillac plans.” Today, organized labor apparently agreed to the excise tax on high end health care plans in exchange for the limits being raised.
What remains unclear is where the negotiations are on other key points of dispute such as the Stupak Amendment, which deals with whether tax dollars would go to fund abortions under the plan. Once again the Stupak Amendment which prohibits such spending is in the House bill while it is not in the Senate bill. I will continue to try and monitor these updates, but like I said, the way the negotiations are being conducted, it becomes difficult to get information.
As for the Republicans, they continue to sit back and unanimously oppose the bill. There have been attempts to get one of the Maine Senators to come aboard, but so far, they have refused. The Republicans seem content to allow this bill to pass so that they can run against it. However, I must ask, “If you truly care about the future of your country and a bill which you think is absolutely horrible is about to be passed, why are you going to let it pass for hopeful political gain?” That my friends is how a politician thinks. They have no concern for the future generation, only the future election. I believe the Republicans dropped the ball on this health care debate last summer. Republicans pride themselves in being devoted to the free market and allowing the market to fix problems. It is for that reason that they despise government involvement in business and economics even when the practices of the business are such that they take advantage of the average consumer.
Last summer, Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) proposed the idea of having health care reform be done by developing non-profit cooperatives which people could buy their insurance from. The idea was that the government would give an infusion of money to start the co-ops, but that they would then run themselves. The government might even provide stipends to low income people to pay the premiums or tax breaks to middle income people. However, the government itself would not be in the business of running any sort of health insurance plan. It would be the perfect way to inject some much needed competition into the health insurance industry and it would do it in a way that would force the for-profit companies to rethink the way they operate in only making decisions based on stock prices and bottom lines. When I heard the idea, I thought it was brilliant. It allowed the government to provide a sense of accountability in the industry without becoming directly involved while letting America’s free market approach ultimately fix some of the inequities.
So what happened? Eventually, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to take health care over for himself rather than have it go through the Finance Committee like it should. Probably because Senator Baucus is too moderate and liberals ridiculed the co-op idea as not going far enough and the plan was dropped. But for a month, it was a real possibility. Supposed Senate Republicans had recognized the long term value in such a plan and had decided to get behind it. Other moderate democrats like Ben Nelson & Evan Bayh certainly would have supported it as well. Once a few moderate democrats jumped on board it could have started a wave of support that could have really picked up steam and you would have had a truly bi-partisan effort in trying to reform health care. An opportunity missed on the Republican politicians. And why? Because they did not want to hand President Obama his prized piece of legislation on a silver platter because they know he would have benefited most
It was once said to me that “Politicians make decisions based on the next election while Statesmen make decisions based on the next generation.” As I watch the polls, this health care debate may be weighing in the Republicans favor politically for the mid-terms, but I can’t help but think, why are there so many politicians in the Republican party – the party I’ve called my home? Yet, right now, there seems to be statesmen in the Democratic party as they are voting on legislation that they believe will help the next generation even if it costs them this November. Even if you disagree with their politics, that is courage and conviction you have to admire, and for some (not all), it makes them a statesman in my book.