Can reconciliation resuscitate health care reform?

OPINION - Passing legislation has now become as difficult as a military operation - as President Obama will announce a "way forward" on health care reform later this week...

Apparently passing legislation has now become as difficult as a military operation – as President Obama will announce a “way forward” on health care reform later this week. What this most likely means is that he will support the use of reconciliation (the political buzz word of the week) in passing a version of the legislation similar to what he released last week, seen as a combination of the House and Senate versions of health care reform legislation that includes a number of republican policy proposals. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for in the health care debate this week:

The public option is alive and well

While we didn’t hear the phrase much during the summit last week, momentum in support of the public option has been growing in both houses of Congress. At last count, 24 senators have signed on to a petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in support of a public option. House Democrats – including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus are also continuing their push for a public option. A number of progressive groups including, Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign will continue their push for support of the public option, look for additional announcements from them as early as today.

Given the political football the phrase, “public option” has become during the debate, Democrats must connect “public option” with the real underlying goals and values in a way that makes sense to everyone: choice and competition. Democrats have gotten too far away from reminding people that that we believe Americans should have real choices about their health care in a truly competitive market. A public option would ensure a real, viable alternative to private insurance. Democrats also need to do a better job taking on the GOP rhetoric, which says that forcing private companies to compete with the government is unfair. What? Since when is competition in the marketplace “unfair”, isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Republicans also claim that the government is inept -so their logic goes that the government is simultaneously completely inept but also too tough a competitor. The GOP is basically saying we should trust the insurance companies in the same way we trusted the banks on Wall Street.

Making reform hit closer to home

Listen for Democrats to continue to talk more directly about lowering individual costs for health insurance premiums. Democrats have finally brought the debate back down to real terms for each of us. If you have health insurance, you are already paying to help cover the uninsured. When an uninsured person makes an emergency room visit, that cost has to be passed along -its estimated that reforming the system would decrease costs for individuals and families by $1,000 per year. President Obama started to made the case last week during the summit, democrats will continue to push this message – shown to be one of the most effective arguments – this week.

Reconciliation, here we come

Also called “the simple majority”, Democrats are moving closer to passing healthcare reform through a procedural movement called reconciliation, which essentially requires a “simple majority” or 51 votes. While republicans will continue to whine against reconciliation, (despite having used the procedure a number of times in the past), last week’s summit, while short on real substance, laid the political groundwork for the President and Democrats to move forward with reconciliation. Post-summit we’ve all now seen that Republicans had yet another opportunity to come to the table with concrete policy ideas. America saw democratic and republican leaders sitting around a table with the president, discussing health care reform. While the GOP chose to use the time to whine about starting over, democrats pushed forward pointing out the republican policy ideas that are in current proposals. Democrats can now very credibly make the case that republicans are not interested in passing real reform, they’ve had multiple opportunities to participate in the process and instead they want to kill health care reform. The GOP is no doubt hoping to stall the bill until after the 2010 elections when they hope to either take over or at least improve their numbers in Congress. Democrats need this win as they campaign at home.

The up or down vote

The other phrase to listen for in the reconciliation/ simple majority discussion is the “up or down vote”. Which really means – bring the bill to a vote on the floor without tricks or delay. Doing so will force members who are opposed or on the fence to take a public stand against health care reform – a vote they will later have to defend to their constituents. It’s a simple, straightforward argument, As Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League said yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, ”… the people deserve, an up or down vote on health care. Let everyone put their proposals on the table. Let the House of Representatives and the Senate vote it up or down.”

GOP senators will hope to short circuit reform

Apparently the reminder by President Obama last week that the campaign is over has just not sunk in. This week Senator McCain will propose a measure that on the surface appears to protect Medicare by suggesting that like social security, any changes to Medicare (even those designed to cut costs and improve efficiency) cannot be done through reconciliation. The real goal of his proposal is jam up reform by cutting out a key area of cost savings in current reform proposals. Doing so would increase the cost of the current proposed legislation so that rather than reducing the deficit, it would increase, making it much harder to pass.

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