The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

Why Liberals Won’t Kill Health Care Reform

Posted by Alan on December 18, 2009


For those opposed to the current versions of health care reform moving through Congress it might be enjoyable to see the Democrat versus Democrat circus currently underway in Washington. Both parties are susceptible to the joys of circular firing squads, but the Democrats are embracing the concept with exceptional glee of late as liberals and moderates in the Democratic caucus brawl over the shape of health care reform legislation. But at the end of the day there’s several reasons why it’s highly likely all 60 members of the Democratic caucus will vote to move the bill forward.

  1. The Senate is not voting on a final health care bill. Yes, passage of health care reform by the U.S. Senate would be a historic milestone, but just a milestone. What emerges from the Senate will go to a conference committee where the final health care reform bill will be drafted. This makes it easier for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to muster the necessary votes. For example, Senator Ben Nelson who is threatening to vote against allowing a vote on the legislation unless it’s abortion language is modified, can make it clear he’ll vote “aye” now to keep the health care bill alive, but he’ll vote against it if the conference committee doesn’t address his concerns. The liberals who are claiming the legislation is a bail-out of the insurance industry can make the same claim: “I’ll vote for it now, but it needs to get better in conference.”
  2. Liberals opposing the bill don’t vote. With the exception of Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, most of the complaints have come from liberals outside of the Senate. Former Governor Howard Dean was the first well-known liberal to call for defeating the Senate health care reform bill. he was soon joined by Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and folks at the Daily Kos blog. The AFL-CIO and SEIU are also making noises about killing the bill and starting over. But killing the bill would require liberals to tell millions of Americans that preventing health insurance companies from denying them coverage isn’t adequately progressive. Or that preventing carriers from dropping insureds when they get sick isn’t sufficiently liberal. Or that eliminating annual and lifetime caps on insurance coverage is unimportant to liberals. Or that making health insurance accessible and affordable (through subsidies) for millions of the currently uninsured fails to meet the definition of “good enough.” Liberals will complain. They’ll whine and threaten. At the end of the day, however, it’s unlikely any liberal wants to go down in history as the vote that postponed health care reform for a generation (see reason #4, below). Mr. Olbermann gets paid to talk so the commercials on his Countdown show don’t run together. He doesn’t have vote in Congress. Neither does Governor Dean. What they say matters only within the bubble known as cable news. Having a vote in Congress is a responsibility the pundits lack, but lawmakers take very seriously – seriously enough to keep health care reform legislation moving forward.
  3. Liberals are upset over more than just the public option. While dropping a “robust” public option from the Senate health care bill is generating the most recent complaints from the left, threats to defeat the bill result from several disappointments. Many liberals support a single payer system and see a government-run health plan as a compromise. They look at the requirement for everyone to purchase health insurance and ask a reasonable question: what is to stop carriers from gouging the public? (Hence proposals for requiring high medical loss ratios). Then there’s efforts by anti-abortion groups to use health care reform to insert language that goes beyond the current status quo embodied by the Hyde amendment. Some progressives also are upset pure community rating is absent from the bill and the fact Health Savings Accounts will survive the reform effort. As the end game approaches, it’s not surprising that passions rise and frustration bubbles over. Especially for liberals about to vote for what they consider disappointing legislation, venting their displeasure is to be expected. Venting displeasure, however, is not the same as blocking health care reform.
  4. Liberals won’t get a better bill any time soon. Progressives were understandably delighted by the 2008 election results. President Barack Obama had a demonstrably liberal voting record and still won in what can legitimately be called a landslide. Democrats had substantial majorities in both houses of Congress. What was overlooked is that the Democratic Party (and the president) is more centrist than true liberals like to believe. In fact, nearly one-third of the Democratic Caucus are also members of the Senate Moderate Dems Working Group. Anyone not trying to sell Viagra and auto insurance (which leaves out Mr. Olbermann) has known for months that health care reform would be shaped by these moderate Democrats Senators. And if liberals think they’ll be replacing these moderates with more liberal Democrats they’re spending too much time in a different space-time continuum than the rest of us. The chances of liberals taking the seats of Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Evan Bayh (Indiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), or Clare McCaskill (Missouri) any time soon are extremely slight. The reality is that Republicans are likely to pick up several seats in the Senate and House in 2010. Historically, the mid-term elections go poorly for the party in the White House. What this means is that for liberals, the current Congress is as good as it gets. Starting over would likely result in reforms even more moderate than what’s being considered today. That’s why Republicans are doing everything they can to slow down the health care reform process. They know the longer the process takes the more likely health care reform is likely to fail and that future attempts will be more to their liking. Liberals in the Senate know this. The Governor Deans of the world can ignore this fact, but lawmakers have to deal with reality, not the fantasies of ideologues.
  5. There’s always tomorrow. To think that whatever health care reform legislation President Barack signs into law health care reform legislation early next year will end debate on the issue for the rest of his Administration is naive. As Republicans gain strength they’ll seek to modify whatever is enacted. Democrats will attempt to expand reforms through more targeted legislation. Whatever health care reform bill emerges from Congress this session should be viewed as a foundation for future political fights, not the end of them.

Could health care reform fail because of attacks from both the left and the right? Yes. Is it likely to fail because liberals join Republicans in torpedoing health care reform? Not really. I don’t envy Senate Majority Leader Reid his task, but my guess is he’ll soon have the 60 votes needed to bring health care reform legislation to the floor of the Senate. Then if some of the liberals want to make a symbolic vote against the reform package they can go right ahead. Once the bill is brought before the Senate It only take 51 votes to move the legislation forward to the conference committee.

Of course, whether whatever health care reform legislation the conference committee can draft will secure enough votes is still very uncertain. But we will have the chance to find out.

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4 Responses to “Why Liberals Won’t Kill Health Care Reform”

  1. Jim H said

    Alan,

    I need to let you know that I have been following your blog for about 8 months…..great stuff. Today is a very important day my myself and family, as well as every broker in the USA. I am a benefits broker and watch cspan, fox, msnbc every chance I get, but they never mention what the healthcare reform will mean to brokers and I understand that it is a very small piece of the puzzle.

    I wanted to know if anyone can tell me if the Reid mgr amendment today does address medical loss ration. It was stated today that carriers would be required to have a loss ratio of 80%- 85%. What would this mean for brokers? Any insight that can give would be great….thanks again for all of the great information as well.

  2. Whether you are Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, Everyone’s Primary Goal in this Healthcare Reform Battle, must to used some of the Stimulus Funds, to CONTAINED our SkyRocketing Healthcare Spending. We must used this Stimulus Funding Opportunity, to Build Smart/Intelligent Infrastructure Services for: Smart Grids, Transportation Systems, Broadband, and Healthcare IT. This Investment will Enabled New Jobs Creation and Economic Recovery.

    Healthcare IT, now it is Time that we Deploy HIT, with Harmonized Inter-State Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security Laws/Policies, for the Protection of Individual’s Electronic Health Records/Electronic Medical Records/Personal Health Records.

    Proper Deployment of Health Information Technology (HIT) Solutions and Training will Increased Productivity (i, e, medical data mining/warehousing, risks treatment, service delivery), Efficiency (i, e, medical errors, redundant and inappropriate care), and have a Costs Savings of around 20-30% of our Annual National Healthcare Expenditures (2008, $.25 Trillions).

    The ENGINE of Economic Growth in this 21st Century is “Broadband.” We can start by, Deploying a pure Packet-based, All Optical/IP, Multi-Service National Transport Network Infrastructure, using Optical Ethernet throughout this National “Network of Networks.”. This can then Connect All Optical Islands, Nationwide.

    The Investment in this Next Generation National “Network of Networks”, in addition to New Jobs Creation and Economic Recovery, can also Serve as a Business Driver for: Energy Systems, Transportation Systems, e-Commerce, e-Education, e-Helthcare, Social Networking, Entertainment, etc.

    Gadema Korboi Quoquoi
    President & CEO
    COMPULINE INTERNATIONAL, INC.

  3. Allen H. said

    Section 2718 – Medical loss ratios are set at 80% in the small group/individual market.
    Section 1334 – The public option is scrapped and replaced with OPM-negotiated private, non-profit (read: Blue Cross/Blue Shield) “multi-state” plans, which are also subject to state regulation? OPM’s role is limited to negotiating and certifying plans that meet its qualifications with respect to: (1) medical-loss ratios, (2) profit margins, (3) premiums charged, and (4) all other terms and conditions.
    Section 10108 – Free choice vouchers: It would seem that Reid has accepted the Wyden amendment, that employees can receive a voucher in the amount of the employer’s contribution and go out onto the exchange (with certain income qualifications)

  4. tomdegan said

    This is another victory for the plutocracy, the Republican party and Joe Liebermann. There will never be, in our lifetime, reasonable health care in this country. We had better face the nasty facts. Ours is not a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. We’re just kidding ourselves.

    Tom Degan

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