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Deceptive Momentum

November 23, 2009
9:22 am

There was a great deal of hoopla Saturday night over the Senate Democratic leadership’s success in gaining the minimum 60 votes necessary to bring health reform legislation to the floor to begin debate after the Thanksgiving holiday.  It’s perhaps a story in itself that there was so much drama over a procedural vote simply to allow debate on the President’s signature policy issue.

Despite Saturday’s successful vote, the road to health reform enactment seems more fraught with potholes than ever.  The Capitol Hill newspaper, Politico, has a good summary story today on the current state of play, headlined, “How Health Reform Could Fall Apart.”  Sunday’s news shows and interviews undermined any supposed momentum that was claimed on Saturday.  Centrist senators made it clear that they will not vote for a bill that includes the current public option language.  Senators on the left, like Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said Sunday that they’ve compromised on the issue as much as they’re going to.

Adding to the difficulty of the task at hand, Rasmussen polling shows, for the first time, public support for Democratic health reform plans has dropped below 40%.  Only 38% support the current legislation compared to 56% opposed.

It’s vital that health reform not fail.  Congress has come so far in this effort that it would be tragic, given the essential improvements our healthcare system truly needs, to come away from this process empty-handed or with a bill that fails to meet vital objectives.

As the Politico story makes clear, health reform legislation has become weighted down with so much controversial baggage – the public option, abortion, immigration and more – that opposition is mounting by the day. 

I still believe Congress would be wise to use the next few weeks to figure out how to strip down health reform legislation to basic elements that achieve core  objectives – essential health insurance reforms, help for low-income Americans to gain access to health insurance, strong  prevention and wellness initiatives and payment and delivery reforms that bring greater value to healthcare.  The more loaded down this legislation becomes with political hot buttons, the less likely it is to fly.  Senators should find a way to get back to health reform basics.

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