Friday, September 4, 2009

Should Officials Draw a Line in the Sand During Discussions on Health Care Reform?

John Fritze wrote an article for USA Today which talks about how some lawmakers have taken concrete positions about what must (or must not) be in the bill if they are going to vote for health care reform. Considering that there is a movement taking place right now trying to encourage members of Congress to sign onto a pledge saying that they won't support a bill that does not include a public option, I thought this was a rather timely article.

As I've pointed out before, there is some resistance to this movement on the Hill because members don't want to have the flexibility to consider a co-op or another method that they believe is almost as good as a public option (although I still insist that a public option is the minimum we can do if we want real reform). One member of Congress who told Fritze that our elected officials need to be open to negotiation is Virginia's own Gerry Connolly.
"I think we're all best served, if we want to get health care, by not drawing bright lines in the sand," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. "All of us are going to have to be prepared to give and take."
I can see where Gerry is coming from as there is almost always going to be some disagreement on the fine details of a bill and you cannot rule out the possibility of a compromise. This is especially important to remember when the extreme right has gotten so riled up that there are literally people walking into Obama's townhall meetings with loaded assault rifles slung over their shoulder. There are, however, a couple of points that I think are important to remember as Congress begins to come back to DC and continue the debate over health care reform.

First of all, the public option is already a compromise that was made by people who supported a single payer system but realized that they probably wouldn't be able to garner bipartisan support for it. In the interest of giving the Republicans an opportunity to come on board with legislation that would help to ensure everyone had access to affordable health care, the Democratic leadership came out early with this compromise.

Secondly, taking a stand and saying you will only support a bill that has a public option doesn't mean that you aren't willing to negotiate. There are plenty of discussions that need to take place about what exactly would go into the public option, how to pay for it, etc, and some "give and take" can be done in these negotiations without having to sacrifice a strong public option. You could even argue that drawing the line in the sand at the public option might even help negotiations because everyone would know what must be included in a final bill if it's going to pass.

And finally, the Republicans have proven that they aren't willing to truly engage in a productive dialouge on the issue. In addition to spreading outright lies about what's being considered, Republicans in Congress have made it a point that they are dedicating all their efforts to destroying any chance that health care reform has of passing. One of the Republican Senators making that claim, Mike Enzi, is even part of the "Gang of Six" which is supposed to be coming up with the compromise plan that could be voted on by the Senate.

So as the debate continues I think Gerry is absolutely correct that we need to make it clear we support a discussion that focuses on the issues when it comes to health care reform. In the end this is what will hopefully lead to true reform and I'm confident that this is why Gerry is encouraging a productive discussion. I simply would add that my three points above should also be taken into consideration.

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