Thursday, December 17, 2009

Howard Dean plunges dagger into the heart of ObamaCare

Howard Dean says he'll support Obama's reelection, but "not vigorously"

As of yesterday, it was not at all clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had managed to corral the votes of moderate Democrats needed to reach the magic number 60. Senator Ben Nelson was still holding out for clear language barring the use of any federal funds for abortions. Joe Lieberman was being counted as a yes vote in some accounts, but all Lieberman said was that if the final bill had no form of public option or Medicare expansion, he was "getting to that position to where I can say...that I'm ready to vote for health care reform." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially considering that Reid has yet to unveil his final bill. Blanche Lincoln's view remained elusive and several other moderates, such as Virginia's Jim Webb, have been conspicuously silent all along.

Then, suddenly, the left lashed out against the bill, with a particularly damaging attack by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Dean has many fish to fry in this debate. He's doubtless been licking his wounds since being passed over by President Obama for Secretary of Health and Human Services. His hostility to Obama was unconcealed in an interview with "Morning Joe" Scarborough (see video above) in which he said he would be supporting Obama for reelection, but "not vigorously." Since that's more or less how much of the left wing of the Democratic Party feels about Obama right now, Dean is making a bold move to claim leadership on the left.

Whatever his motives, in a Washington Post op-ed today, Dean made a powerful case against the Senate bill from his perspective:

If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.

Real health-care reform is supposed to eliminate discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But the legislation allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to three times as much as younger Americans, pricing them out of coverage. The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries -- in the range of $20 million a year -- and on return on equity for the company's shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled. In short, the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at AIG.

I'd call this is a clear attempt to plunge a dagger into the heart of any compromise Senate bill that might meet the objections of moderates like Nelson, Lieberman and Lincoln. Of course, Dean doesn't have a vote in the Senate, but his fellow Vermonter, independent Bernie Sanders, does, and Sanders says he's not going to support any bill that strips out the public option and Medicare expansion.

This left-wing rebellion goes beyond Vermont. Half the influential left blogosphere has bolted, with DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas writing that it's 'time to kill this monstrosity coming out of the Senate." Liberal MSNBC hosts are piling on as well. Addressing Obama, Ed Schultz said on his program, "Right now, Mr. President, your base thinks you’re nothing but a sellout — a corporate sellout, out that. … The only people who like this current bill right now, Mr. President, is the insurance industry — they get a bunch of new customers.” In a windy commentary, Keith Olberman underscored Dean's arguments, called the compromise Senate bill a "cheesy counterfeit of reform," and declared that he personally would risk jail rather than accede to the individual mandate, if the bill becomes law. Meanwhile, the powerful Service Employees International Union, a major Obama backer and go-to player on health care reform, appeared to be hedging its support and applying pressure on Reid to move the bill back to the left.

If Reid does that, he loses Lieberman and Nelson, probably Lincoln and maybe other moderates. At the least, Obama's Christmas deadline is now kaput. Come January, all bets are off.

What's your take? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- Ben Nelson has affirmed that he won't settle for any compromise on abortion language but will filibuster anything less than the House-passed Stupak Amendment. He also says he has other issues with the bill and that a deadline "isn't helpful." It's looking impossible for Reid to satisfy both Nemson and his rebelling left wing.

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