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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giving Up a Legislative Snipe Hunt

For healthcare reform, yesterday turned out to be a game-changer. Senate majority leader Harry Reid either found or borrowed a backbone, made a decision, and moved forward with a reform bill that includes the public option. Of course, as public options go this actually isn't one. It's a public health insurance plan, sure, but you can't actually choose it unless you're uninsured -- so the "option" part is a bit of false advertising. So much for competition. If you're willing to go glass-half-full, then take the news this way; that which exists can be improved -- you can't come back later and fix a "public option" that doesn't actually exist -- and this isn't the bill. The Senate bill will still need to be combined with a House bill. This whole thing's still a work in progress.

Olympia SnoweAs compromises go, this wouldn't be the worst. Opt-out is definitely better than opt-in. Had this been the other way around -- assuming it'd be a legislative process -- then each state would need to pass a law the governor would either sign or veto in order to get in. Winning two chambers and a veto override in many states would impossible chore, leaving too many states out of the system. The way the Senate bill has it, all those roadblocks stand in the way of states opting out. Only the states with the most lunatic political atmosphere -- i.e., Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, etc. -- would be able to pull that off.

And let's not even talk about the idiocy that is the "trigger." For her part, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe is "disappointed" with Reid's bill and stands by the idea of the trigger.

If you need any evidence that Snowe has taken over the speedbump role that Chuck Grassley had previously played, there you go. The trigger makes no sense at all, no one (other than Olympia) actually seems to like the idea, and her complaints seem to serve no other purpose than to offer an alternative. This allows Republicans and Blue Dogs to claim the debate isn't over.

Speaking of Republicans, the response from that party's Senate leadership was predictable. Minority leader Mitch McConnell reacted by falling very short of the truth. "[W]olly aside from the debate over whether the government gets into the insurance business, the core of the proposal is a bill that the American public clearly does not like, and doesn’t support," McConnell said. "While final details of this bill are still unknown, here’s what we do know: It will be a thousand-page, trillion-dollar bill that raises premiums, raises taxes and slashes Medicare for our seniors to create new government spending programs. That’s not reform."

The problem here is that the American public clearly likes a public option. In fact, given a choice between a bipartisan bill without an option and a Democrat-only bill that includes one, a majority chooses the latter. Republican leadership has no business claiming to speak for the American public, seeing how the American public would rather see them shut out. Mitch is speaking from deep within his own pants -- which is nothing new. On this issue at least, the American public doesn't give a crap about the Republican party.

And that attitude most likely extends to Olympia Snowe. Her vote is valued by some because they think they can use it to claim a "bipartisan" bill. If one vote from another party makes a bill bipartisan, than this is bipartisan without Snowe. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, is an Independent. He'll vote for the bill and you got your bipartisanship right there. It's just as logically legit as saying Snowe's single vote would constitute bipartisanship. If one vote is your yardstick, why the snipe hunt? We've got one vote from another party right now.

But I suppose it's too much to ask that American politics make any damned sense at all.


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