No, It Needs Saying

Mike Lux at Open Left writes:

Look, this should be obvious, but apparently it’s not: when some big piece of our economy is really messed up, but some major corporate interest is making lots and lots of money off the system, if that corporate interest doesn’t object to the “reform” being proposed, whatever legislation being proposed will not solve the actual problem. The 98-0 votes that folks like David Broder love and extol, the bipartisan bill signing ceremonies that thrill the hell out of everyone in DC – they don’t actually solve or resolve anything important.

If Democrats take the easy path, and get that big bipartisan love fest on the White House lawn, health care will still be messed up in all the ways it’s messed up now: health care costs (and the federal budget deficit) will still be spiraling up and up, the number of uninsured will keep going up as well, people who lose their jobs or have pre-existing conditions will still be priced out of the ability to get insurance. And instead of congratulating us for our great bipartisan compromise, voters will be pissed. President Obama and Congressional Democrats need to grit their teeth and stick to the business of comprehensive reform. It will make the insurance companies, and the Republicans, really mad. But failing to actually solve the problem AGAIN is a train wreck. Stick with it, folks, put your noses to the grindstone, and do what needs to be done.

It does need to be said. Now, it isn’t a surprise to anyone who is paying attention to the degree that, say, liberal bloggers are paying attention. But there is a clear inability for Democrats in Washington and insider organizations to see the forest from the trees here. At some point, this thing either needs to have teeth or it needs to be put on hold until the votes are there to pass something with teeth. In effect, what Lux is saying is a direct rebuttal to the Baucus strategy to get a bipartisan bill (supported in strong terms by President Obama). As Matt Yglesias notes, Baucus is uniquely responsible for deflating progressive passion for healthcare reform.

Lux’s point brings me back to something that I have often felt and said regarding Democratic politics in Washington. This is a situation where there are two possible explanations for the pursuit of a bipartisan resolution that makes everyone happy. The first, which seems to be what Lux is implying, is that some people in DC just haven’t noticed that this path won’t produce meaningful change and as a result, Democrats may well be punished for not getting the job done on healthcare reform. The second, which I think is the correct explanation, is that many Democrats simply do not believe that a failure to dramatically change the realities in healthcare insurance and delivery in America with new legislation would not be a legislative failure. They have a vested interest in the continued prosperity of the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the private hospital industry (among others). As such, they don’t seek to help everyone if it comes at the expense of their donor base.

Sadly, the outcome of healthcare reform legislation seems to be controlled to a greater degree by the empowered conservative Democratic minority in the Senate and House, under the guidance of Max Baucus, Mike Ross, and with peripheral messaging support from a President who mistakenly continues to embrace the goal of bipartisanship over efficacy in healthcare legislation.

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