Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Senator Ron wants to play with the big boys

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.

Max and Chuck: Like little lovebirds
One big player in the game is Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He is resistant to the idea of a 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 Demint
I'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.


Anonymous said...

Why the urgency? This sounds alot like the stimulus....ram it through (never mind the specifics) we need it NOW! The Congressional Budget Office has stated that this hairbrained idea will BREAK THE BANK.

Obama maintains it is "deficit neutral". Either he's an idiot or lying through his teeth (fankly I believe it's both).

As to Sen. Wydens proposal it at least has some praticallity involved. But, either way the ONLY way these socialist medical proposals will fly is through increased taxes for everyone.

The ray of sunshine is that the public is finally starting to catch on that Obama is the poster child of tax and spend liberalism. His poll numbers are lower than, the great peanut brain himself, Jimmy Carter in his first year. They are starting to realize that we cannot afford to mortgage future generations prosperity.

You are correct about elections though. In 2010 the Democrats will pay the piper for their failed stimlus, nationalizing of the auto industry, and RECORD deficits. Hopefully, there will still be a country left to save when Obama gets the boot in 2012.

Remember: you think health care is expensive now? Wait until it's "free".

Dan Binmore said...

There is urgency because politics requires momentum. There is urgency because tens of thousands of american citizens are dying without health care.

In the short term socialized health care will cost more money because it costs money to change things. In the long run it is cheaper as demonstrated by every other industrialized nation. In the long run it will cost less money for the USA to have socialized medicine than the present system.

Socialist medicine will only come about through increased taxes, and eliminated costs to individuals and companies. The overall cost is lower. I don't think it matters who you write the check to for your healthcare, you just want to have healthcare and pay less.

Obama's poll numbers have shrunk to an approval rating of over 55%.