Liberally Speaking (12/23/09)

Despite its flaws, pass the bill

Dec. 23, 2009

By Steve Mount

Democrats are in a fine mess now. The public is watching closely to see what kind of health care reform the Democrats can actually pass. Even with sizable majorities in both houses of Congress, the 60-vote majority needed to stop debate in the Senate has been hard to find.

Part of the problem is one of the Democratic Party’s strengths — the fact that it is a large tent, happy to encompass a wide diversity of opinion and position. This does, however, make the party vulnerable to dissenters.

A major problem recently has been Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who threatened to hold up the health care bill unless he managed to have anti-abortion language added. Despite the opposition of many Democrats, Nelson had his way.

Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is another problem. He was, of course, a long-time Democrat, but defected from the party to run as an independent when primary voters managed to knock him out of the running for his seat as a Democrat in 2006. He has since been something of a curmudgeon, becoming an unknown quantity. Will he stick with his previous statements or will he allow his position to shift with the political winds?

The job of a senator is to take how he feels about the issue at hand and combine that with how his constituents feel and his party’s platform. These three interests are often competing, and for Sens. Lieberman and Nelson, along with some others who have been on the fence, such as Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, the pull of one interest can sway their statements, their negotiations, their votes.

The problem, from my perspective, is when things are this close (close, of course, being a relative term, since there are more than enough votes for the full-on health care reform bill, complete with consumer protections and a public option — the closeness is in that insane cloture vote), the vote of one senator can trump what’s right, what’s best for the country.

I understand former Gov. Howard Dean’s frustration, and his call for the health care bill, in its current stripped-down form, to be defeated by those who support true reform. I listened to his arguments with a wide-open mind. His suggestion is to kill the bill and use the reconciliation process, a special process for budget bills, which many have argued the health care bill can reasonably be considered, to pass something closer to what the House passed in November.

The biggest problem Dean has with the current bill is that it does nothing to combat the monopoly that the insurance industry has over the health care industry. In fact, it plays into the insurance industry’s hands by requiring the uninsured to buy insurance or face fines. The uninsured cannot choose a government-run plan, because there isn’t one. The insurance industry loves this bill. The people want real choices, Dean says, and with this bill there are no choices.

He feels the real reforms in the bill, such as the elimination of pre-existing conditions, funding for wellness and prevention programs and support for community health care centers, should be pulled out, placed in a separate bill and passed on their own.

He also must feel, considering his former job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that the current bill will be a blow to Democrats in the 2010 elections — given the majorities Democrats have, we should be able to accomplish more. Will the voters give the Democrats another chance to get the work of government done?

Despite my deep respect for Gov. Dean, and the appeal of his suggestion, I don’t think Democrats should take the advice. The current bill is sorely lacking in many areas, but one thing is agreed upon by all left-wing commentators: This bill, as it is now, will save lives. Yes, it will add undeserved profit to the insurance industry; but in the end, people who otherwise would have died will live.

We can blame many, perhaps even most, of the problems with the bill on the necessity to accommodate the single, contrarian senator. But despite that, we do have a bill that does something substantive, something real and good. It gives the Democrats something to hang their hats on in 2010, even if it is not what all of us would have liked to see.

The bill should be supported, it should be passed, it should become law.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at