|Senator Ron Wyden: Never one to waste an opportunity|
It's crunch time in the US Senate. President Obama has imposed a deadline for passage of some kind of national health care reform. He has publicly expressed his wish that something happen before Congress adjourns for its August recess. That's not even two weeks away. Well, after all, he came into office with a big, big vision and he's definitely not backing down.
Whenever things get tight like this, Senators smell opportunity. The parliamentary procedures of that body are such that each Senator has the ability to gum up the works in various ways unless other Senators make some concessions to him or her. It is one of the facets of the Senate that I find so fascinating: an ever-shifting landscape of alliances and enmities. Decorum must be maintained in spite of betrayals, threats, and hardball politics.
public health care option, ostensibly because he wants bipartisan support for the bill. That excuse can almost fly. After all, Baucus has been around long enough to know that, although the Democrats have the majority in the Senate at the moment, a couple bad elections could demote him to ranking minority Senator, playing second-fiddle to his GOP counterpart, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). (Never mind that Senator Baucus received $1.5 million in campaign contributions from health-related companies and their employees in 2007-2008. What are you? A cynic?)
The various caucus leaders are wheeling and dealing, too: Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) for the Democrats and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) for the Republicans.
But now, Oregon's own Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has decided that it is time for him to make his move. In spite of his having been in the Senate since 1996, he is still something of a back bencher in the Democratic caucus. He's tired of it, apparently.
Senator Wyden has been pitching his own idea for health care reform for years now. His idea, as I understand it, is to tax employer health care benefits while providing incentives for employers to raise their employees' salaries to compensate. (I hope I'm being accurate with this characterization). No real public option. To me, this idea seems like yet another sop to the health care insurance industry. And a quick internet search reveals that one of Senator Wyden's top campaign contributors is none other than Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
But, as I said at the beginning of the post, it is crunch time in the US Senate, and now is when senators have maximum leverage. President Obama is going to need every vote he can possibly get. And so now, Senator Wyden has formed a group of so-called "centrist" senators demanding delay on the passage of a bill. Besides Senator Wyden, the group consists of Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Icky Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME). These senators wrote a letter to the leaders of both caucuses urging delay. (You can read the letter here).
Whether or not they succeed is anybody's guess at the moment.
But I'll tell you this much: I really resent Senator Wyden's opportunism. President Obama has stated that he believes any delay may very well destroy hopes for reform. And the GOP is licking its chops at the possibility that the administration might fail. In fact, Senator Jim Demint (R-SC) stated:
This health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America. If we lose this, we’ll probably have half of our economy in some way controlled by the federal government. We can’t allow that to happen. And on the other side of it, if we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him. And we will show that we can – along with the American people – begin to push those freedom solutions that work in every area of our society. -Sen. Jim DemintI've supported Senator Wyden in the past and I wouldn't mind seeing him gain a rank or two in the leadership of the Democratic caucus. But if he plays a part in killing real health care reform, and thereby seriously undermines the Obama agenda, I'm going to remember it.