Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced an amendment yesterday that would extend Medicare benefits to all Americans, effectively bringing a single-payer system to the US, as the good people of Canada, the UK, Australia and elsewhere already have. This is the route that I would like reform to take. However, even though the amendment had no chance of passing, a Republican senator asked that the 787-page proposal be read aloud in its entirety, something rare in a house of Congress, where big bills are often considered. This was clearly a move to slow down the whole health care debate and Sanders eventually withdrew his amendment -- which presumably delighted the Senate clerks who otherwise would be reading it for some ten hours.
And now, in today's Washington Post, Howard Dean -- former DNC chairman and presidential candidate -- writes that the current Senate health care proposal, stripped of a public option and a Medicare buy-in, would "do more harm than good to the future of America." Oh boy. What is a committed liberal to make of all this?
Update (12/19): Paul Krugman, writing in yesterday's New York Times, advocates passage of the current health care bill before the Senate, no matter how flawed it might be.
Krugman goes on to write: "Look, I understand the anger here: supporting this weakened bill feels like giving in to blackmail — because it is." But an imperfect bill is better than no bill, the Nobel Prize-winner reasons, noting that Democrats failed to compromise on the issue with President Nixon and that President Clinton wouldn't compromise with moderate Republicans in Congress and, on both occasions, the outcome was no reform at all.
At its core, the bill would do two things. First, it would prohibit discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of medical condition or history: Americans could no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or have their insurance canceled when they get sick. Second, the bill would provide substantial financial aid to those who don’t get insurance through their employers, as well as tax breaks for small employers that do provide insurance.
All of this would be paid for in large part with the first serious effort ever to rein in rising health care costs.The result would be a huge increase in the availability and affordability of health insurance, with more than 30 million Americans gaining coverage, and premiums for lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans falling dramatically.
The final peg of Krugman's rationale is that social programs have often started as imperfect bills that get fixed along the way, with Social Security a prime example. So, he says, let's get it done. And I agree.