Friday, July 31, 2009

Et tu Baucus?

By Don Klein

What Marcus Junius Brutus was to Julius Caesar, Senator Max Baucus is to the public option in the universal health care legislation proposed by President Obama.

Baucus has wheeled and dealed the public option out of the health plan desired by the majority of Americans polled so far and thereby has plunged a knife into the back of legislation which was the hope of so many. And the real crime is he did it with a filibuster proof Senate majority on his side.

Will the voters of Montana remember Baucus’s treachery the next time he runs for reelection in 2014. The 50-year-old Democrat in his seventh Senate term made concessions to the Republican members of the committee because he claimed he wanted a bipartisan bill. He knows full well that the GOP will not support the bill no matter what he deletes from it in committee.

Important to politicians, he is jeopardizing the Democratic members of Congress who are up for re-election next year. Fortunately for him, Baucus doesn’t face the electorate for another five years. But all is not lost. It is unlikely that the final bill will get to the full Congress without the public option included.

"Health care reform without the public option is not reform," said Howard Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee, it will do nothing but add to the cost, he claimed. Dean is a doctor and the onetime governor of Vermont.

In contrast, Bill Frist, another doctor and former Republican Senate leader, sees the public option as having the potential to bankrupt the country. They both agreed the current system is not working but Frist believes that the government can bring down costs of medical care by working with the existing insurance companies.

The interesting thing is that although Frist does not think the government can run a health program he admitted that Medicare, the government run program for seniors, is doing very well. On the Charlie Rose TV Show he said he would not vote to repeal Medicare if he was still in office. Neither would any of the current health plan opponents. Today they embrace it but when Medicare was being debated in Congress in 1965, Republicans were as opposed to it as they are opposed to today’s universal health plan.

It is clear to all that Republicans, who almost unanimously oppose the health plan offered by Obama, are reaching for straws to kill it. They are now passing around the claim that the government intends to euthanize seniors who are chronically ill in order to save money by not having to pay for treating sickly people in their later years.

This is a distortion of a clause in the bill to provide coverage to people who choose to consult with professionals when they wish to prepare a living will. This would be covered by the new law, as it already is in Medicare. Some Republican opponents have maliciously suggested that government personnel will visit people and ask them how they wish to die if the bill becomes law.

The GOP doesn’t have Harry and Louise this time around as they did with the Clinton health bill back in 1993 so they are inventing new outrageous fears. They want to preserve the exorbitant profits of the medical insurance companies which ply them with all sorts of campaign funds and fear that a public option as part of this planned legislation will bring down profits of their insurance company friends or possibly put them out of business.

That’s sheer lunacy but they’ll use any underhanded tactic to hurt the bill.
Unfortunately for the nearly 50 million without insurance in this country there are a number of rogue Democrats who are willing to play along with the plan’s enemies. The committee Sen. Baucus runs and which dropped the public option is only one of two in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives working on this measure. Chances are the public option will find its way back into the bill before or during the conference committee session to be held in the fall.
Obama said he would not sign a bill without it. The Democrats are aware they would be committing suicide if there was no public option in the end version, especially since 72 percent of Americans have indicated they favor that clause in recent polls.

No one said that passing a universal health plan for the country was going to be easy. Nothing that favors ordinary people ever comes easy in the House of Hypocrisy, otherwise known as Congress. It is a wonder people haven’t reacted with more ardor than they have during the current session over the shenanigans on Capitol Hill.

It seems certain that the House of Representatives will muster enough clout to pass the legislation. Speaker Pelosi has just about guaranteed that and she should know the head count. The question mark is the Senate, and that chamber's leader, Sen. Harry Reid appears determined to find bipartisanship where it doesn’t exist.

At best he will only be able to count on two or three Republicans and is bound to loose as many conservative Democrats. But Reid has an ace in his back pocket if he invokes the maneuver known as "reconciliation." Under such rules the threshold for passage is reduced from 60 (the filibuster proof level) to 50 ( a simple majority).

Without any real support from the GOP we have to depend n the Democrats to do the right thing and give the country a much-needed health care bill of which all can be proud. Even Sen, Baucus.

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