One last health care compromise

Wrapping up the reform process need not be so complicated

Progress on passing a health care bill has ground to a screeching halt yet again.
On one side are the Republicans, who, despite repeated Democratic concessions, are still unhappy with a bill that, after all, does not include a single-payer system, does not include a public health insurance option, does not include an early Medicare buy-in, and does reduce the deficit over both the next ten and twenty years. Instead, Republicans would rather start over the year-long process that has gotten us to where we are now âÄî possibly because they expect to pick up seats in the 2010 midterm elections, which will empower them to obstruct health care reform efforts even further. On the other side, Democrats have been just as bullheaded. While Republicans came out of the recent health care summit at Blair House still intent on throwing away everything Congress has achieved on this front since last January, the Democrats came away with the mindset that Republicans were not going to cooperate no matter what, supposedly forcing them to use an obscure measure called budget reconciliation to pass a health care bill, in which only 51 votes would be required in the Senate. Budget reconciliation is the easy way out, and Democrats were looking for any excuse to justify it. It would also be a politically risky move to use reconciliation; opponents will be quick to smear Democrats for trampling minority party rights and using backdoor tactics, and thatâÄôs sure to be their line in upcoming elections. No one seems to have considered seriously a third option: the Housing passing the Senate bill verbatim (which already passed the Senate with 60 votes, and would go to the PresidentâÄôs desk if the House passed an identical bill), then not using budget reconciliation at all, but using legislation that is subject to the normal rules of the Senate for further health care reform. Of course, House Democrats would not be happy about passing the Senate bill âÄî it may cover fewer people than the HouseâÄôs, does not include a public option, and has looser language about banning subsidized insurance plans that cover abortions. But if passing a health care bill is really about putting aside political games and personal pride to do something good for the American people, House Democrats should be willing to compromise one last time. If they do not, they risk looking a lot like the Republicans theyâÄôve been chiding for obstructionism. Eric Murphy welcomes comments at [email protected]