Editorial: Failing the American people

Brattleboro Reformer

It never stood a chance, but Sen. Bernard Sanders gave it a shot anyway.

On Wednesday, Sanders attempted to introduce an amendment to the Senate health care reform bill that would have created a "Medicare for All" health care plan.

He said his approach is the only one "which eliminates the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, administrative costs, bureaucracy and profiteering that is engendered by the private insurance companies. ... One of the reasons our current health care system is so expensive, so wasteful, so bureaucratic, so inefficient is that it is heavily dominated by private health insurance companies whose only goal in life is to make as much money as they can."

Predictably, the Republicans resorted to obstructionism to block consideration of Sanders’ amendment. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., exercised his prerogative and ordered Senate clerks to begin reading the 767-page proposal aloud to a nearly empty chamber. After three hours, they were 139 pages into it when Sanders finally capitulated and withdrew his amendment.

While Sanders acknowledged that the proposal lacked the votes to pass, he said it was important for him to try. He vowed that similar legislation will return when the realization dawns that private insurance companies "are no longer needed."

"The fact that 17 percent of our people are unemployed or underemployed, one out of four of our
got global warming, we have a $12 trillion national debt, and the best the Republicans can do is try to bring the United States government to a halt by forcing a reading of a 700 page amendment. That is an outrage," Sanders said Wednesday night. "People can have honest disagreements, but in this moment of crisis, it is wrong to bring the United States government to a halt."

This display of petulance by the Republican minority in the Senate was yet an another illustration of why the Senate will not produce a bill that does anything to ease the problem of health care access in the United States.

In general, the overall legislation is designed to spread coverage to millions who lack it, ban insurance industry practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions and slow the rate of growth for medical spending nationally. Sadly, it could take 3-4 years for much of this to kick in. And despite the modicum of good in this bill, there’s way too much in it that is simply a massive giveaway to the insurance industry.

It boils down to this: if this version of health care reform passes, every American will be required -- under the threat of heavy fines -- to buy very expensive health insurance coverage with their own money with no public option, no Medicare buy-in for people aged 55-65 and few subsidies. The insurance industry gets tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. If that’s not a giveaway, what is?

While the House bill would set up a nationwide government-run insurance option in hopes of creating competition for private insurers. the Senate bill does not. Thanks to the public temper tantrums of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., it was taken out.

We agree with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who told Vermont Public Radio on Tuesday that "the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill. ... The Republicans in the Senate will moan and groan, but they’re out of touch with where America really is. You have the vast majority of Americans wanting the choices, they want real choices. They don’t have them in this bill. This is not health care reform and it’s not close to health care reform."

While it’s easy to blame Lieberman and other conservative Senate Democrats for gutting the health care bill, the blame for this mess falls squarely on President Obama’s shoulders.

Obama could have insisted on a better bill. He could have taken a more active role in shaping it. He could have recognized early on that no compromises would be acceptable to the Republicans in Congress and their conservative Democratic allies. He could have gone on without them. He chose to do none of these things.

The talk out of Washington is that the Obama administration wants a health reform bill passed -- and it is not particularly fussy about what’s in it. What it wants is is a "great" legislative victory. As has been the case with his economic stimulus package, reforming the financial markets and coming up with a war plan for Afghanistan, Obama provides lots of good speeches, but little good policy.

If the Democrats, who now control the White House and have their biggest congressional majorities in years, can’t pass even a reasonable health care bill, it is a safe bet that they will get thumped in the 2010 elections. A party that promises change and fails to deliver on that promise deserves nothing less.