The Sun Journal editorial of Feb. 25 accused Democrats of responding to Republican obstructionism by ramming an unpopular, partisan “dead-ended” program through Congress. That unsupportable claim demands a response.
First, the Democratic proposals are not unpopular. The majority supports comprehensive reform, and the most recent Kaiser Foundation study shows the individual components of the current plan are solidly popular.
Second, the plan is not partisan. It follows a year where attempted bipartisan negotiations by Democrats were met with Republican obstruction at every turn.
Seeking bipartisan support, the administration discarded many components endorsed by independent health economists, including Medicare expansion and the public option.
Many Republican suggestions, including exchanges and tort reform, are in the bill, which also includes more than 170 Republican amendments.
Democratic attempts at bipartisanship were thwarted by Republicans such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, who explicitly stated opposition to any attempt at comprehensive reform.
Instead of negotiating toward compromise or putting forward their own plan, Republicans chose a politically expedient strategy of preventing comprehensive reform and endorsing the status quo.
Third, the Obama administration is not ramming through a dead-ended plan. Comprehensive reform proposals have already won majority approval in both the House and Senate. What remains is simply to reconcile the differences between the two similar bills.
That bears repeating: Comprehensive health care reform bills have already been passed by majority votes in both Houses of Congress.
What the editorial labels as “ramming through” is simply the process of reconciliation, designed exactly for this circumstance, and used previously by Republicans for major health care and taxation legislation: the $2.5 trillion Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and health care bills such as COBRA and Medicare drug benefits. The use of reconciliation has been staunchly supported by such conservative Republicans as Sen. Judd Gregg.
The editorial accurately points out that the nation’s health care system costs almost twice as much as extremely popular single-payer systems in other countries with universal coverage and better outcomes. The editorial asks, can we afford a second-rate system that costs nearly twice as much? The answer is no.
Characterizing the current circumstance as a failure of Democrats or the Obama administration to provide leadership and offer solutions is untrue and helps a posturing and politically motivated minority “jam everything up until the next election.”
The choice is simple.
Support the Obama administration and reconciliation of the two bills that have already passed by majority vote in both houses of Congress, or support Republican defense of the status quo, expect continued huge increases in the cost of insurance from Anthem and others, and accept responsibility for the inevitable ongoing damage to the health of American citizens and our economy caused by inaccessible and unaffordable health care.
Dr. Peter Elias practices family medicine at Family Healthcare Associates in Auburn.