Monday, November 23, 2009

Letter From the Editor: Memo to Senate Dems -- Public Option Is Not Negotiable

Holdout Democrats Still Opposed to the 'Public Option' Should Heed This Warning: Any Health-Reform Bill Without It Won't Be Worth the Paper It's Printed On for Those Who Can't Afford Health Insurance; The Time Has Come for Majority Leader Reid to End 'Tyranny of the Intransigent Minority' and Choke Off GOP Filibuster by Invoking Reconciliation -- or the 'Nuclear Option' -- to Ensure the Bill's Passage

The bill put forward by Senate Democrats to reform the American health-care system passed a key procedural hurdle Saturday. But the 60-39 party-line vote, while choking off a Republican filibuster to prevent the bill from reaching the floor, doesn't guarantee that the measure will win final passage. At least one conservative Democrat, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, made it clear that she still opposes the so-called "public option" and has threatened to vote against the bill if the public option isn't removed from it. But removing the public option from the bill will render the measure totally worthless -- so Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have no choice but to invoke either reconciliation or the so-called "nuclear option" to ensure the bill's passage with the public option intact. (Photo courtesy

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no Thursday edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report on November 26. The next regularly scheduled edition will be published next Monday, November 30. Happy Thanksgiving!

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, November 23, 2009)


It's crunch time for health-care reform.

With new opinion polls showing the American public sharply divided -- and time running out before election-year pressure begins to bear down on lawmakers -- Senate Democrats secured just enough support Saturday night to bring the massive, 2,000-plus-page health reform bill to the Senate floor for what is expected to be a long, emotional and acrimonious debate.

The 60-39 party-line vote -- all 58 Democrats and two independents voting yes and all of the chamber's Republicans except the absent Senator George Voinovich of Ohio voting no -- cut off a GOP filibuster preventing the measure from coming to the floor.

But there's no guarantee that the bill will muster the 60 votes required to overcome another GOP filibuster against the measure's final passage.

That the measure -- aimed at making health insurance coverage available to an estimated 31 million Americans who can't afford it -- still faces an uncertain future was made crystal clear shortly after the vote, when one Democrat, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, bluntly warned her colleagues that she remained adamantly opposed to the so-called "public option" -- a government-run health insurance plan that would compete directly with private insurers.


Lincoln vowed to vote against the measure unless the public option is removed. She agreed to vote for the bill in the procedural vote only to move it forward for debate. "Although I don’t agree with everything in this bill," she said, "I believe it is more important that we begin debate on how to improve the health care system for all Americans."

Lincoln is not alone. Other moderate-to-conservative Democrats also oppose the public option, most notably Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Max Baucus of Montana and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut vowed to join the GOP filibuster of the bill if the public option remains in it.

But liberal Democrats -- especially in the House -- are equally adamant that a public option is absolutely vital to making health insurance affordable for all Americans. They have drawn a line in the sand, making the public option a "non-negotiable" item that must stay in the bill.

With significant differences between the House and Senate versions, an agreement on the final bill must be reached in the House-Senate Conference Committee. The final bill must then be approved by each chamber before it goes to President Obama for his signature.

Without the public option, the House liberals warn, they won't allow the measure to reach Obama's desk. And The 'Skeeter Bites Report emphatically agrees. Without the public option, no health-reform bill will be worth the paper it's printed on.


Too many Americans are literally going broke because they cannot afford the skyrocketing cost of health care.

A growing number of businesses -- both large and small -- are being forced to stop offering health-care plans to their employees because they can no longer afford the soaring cost, either.

That threatens to prolong the recession for months -- even years -- by slamming the door on job creation. Consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, cannot and will not grow back to its pre-recession levels as long as 15 to 20 million Americans remain out of work and another five to ten million fear losing their jobs.

And for Americans in potentially life-threatening situations, the increasing unaffordability of health care can literally be a matter of life or death.

The bottom line is that health-care reform must pass -- and it must pass THIS year, WITH a public option -- or else.


There are, of course, many liberals who are continuing to insist that only a government-run single-payer system will constitute real health reform. But a single-payer system is simply not in the cards.

Even if the votes were there in Congress to pass single-payer, it likely would face a constitutional challenge by the private health insurance industry on the grounds that a single-payer system would drive them out of business, in violation of the Commerce Clause -- and possibly the Fifth Amendment -- of the Constitution.

With the constitutionality of a single-payer system in doubt, the public option -- direct competition between public and private health-insurance providers -- is the only practical way to force down the cost of health insurance.

It's also the only way that low and moderate-income Americans can afford to buy health insurance if carrying such coverage is made mandatory, as automotive insurance is now. If you're going to make health insurance mandatory for everyone, then just like auto insurance, it must be affordable for everyone.


With Republicans determined to defeat the bill, the standoff within the Democratic ranks may force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to invoke "reconciliation" -- the process allowing a contentious bill to be considered without being subject to filibuster -- to ensure the measure's passage.

Because reconciliation limits debate and amendment, the process empowers the majority party by enabling it to pass the bill by a simple majority. But the process is usually employed only on budget bills, and it's not clear whether reconciliation can be invoked to pass the health-reform bill.

When Bill Clinton was president, he wanted to use reconciliation to pass his 1993 health care plan, but Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) insisted that the health care plan was out of bounds for a process that is theoretically about budgets. Sixteen years later, however, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), a member of the Senate Finance Committee working on the current health reform bill, said that reconciliation may be used, is an acceptable option, and that he can support it.

Reid may have little choice. The only alternative -- as The 'Skeeter Bites Report pointed out in a previous editorial on October 29 -- would be to invoke the so-called "nuclear option" -- a change in Senate rules that would do away with the filibuster altogether.

When the Republicans controlled the Senate in 2005, they threatened to employ the "nuclear option" to stop Democratic filibusters of then-President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.


The 'Skeeter Bites Report believes that the filibuster has long outlived its usefulness and has degenerated into a tyranny of the intransigent minority, an affront to the democratic principle of majority rule -- and is especially despicable given its long history of being used repeatedly and immorally against civil-rights and anti-discrimination legislation.

It was used in the 1940s -- and again as recently as 2008 -- to block the passage of vitally needed legislation to end employment discrimination. It was used in the 1950s against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It was used in the 1960s against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Democrats were just as wrong in employing the filibuster against President Bush's judicial nominees in 2005 as the Republicans were in filibustering against President Obama's first judicial nominee, U.S. District Judge David Hamilton of Indiana, to the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- a filibuster that was crushed by a 70-29 vote earlier this month.

The judicial filibusters are clearly an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government and should have been struck down.


As the Senate prepares for what is expected to be a weeks-long debate on the health reform bill when it returns from its Thanksgiving recess on November 30, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Americans remain deeply divided over the measure.

But while a majority of respondents voiced deep concerns about the cost of the reform package that is still being worked out, the Republicans have largely failed to turn public opinion against it, the poll found.

The Post/ABC News poll found that a majority of 53 percent still supports the public option, although that's down from a 57 percent majority a month ago.

However, support for the public option soars to 72 percent -- although down from 76 percent last month -- if it is administered by the states, rather than by the federal government, and if it is targeted specifically to Americans who can't afford private health insurance or who lack access to Medicare or Medicaid.

More bad news for Republicans: a solid 61 percent of respondents found fault with the GOP for "mainly criticizing" and fighting against the Democrats' plan without putting forth any viable alternative health reform plan of their own.

The Post/ABC News poll differs little from a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from last month that showed a nearly two-thirds majority disapproving of how congressional Republicans are handling the issue of health care overhaul.

The same poll also found that nearly four times as many Americans would blame the GOP than would blame the Democrats if the health reform bill failed to pass.

There is no more time for dilly-dallying. As I concluded in my previous editorial on this subject last month, Americans cannot wait another generation for health reform. It must pass, with a public option, this year -- or else there will be hell to pay in next year's midterm elections.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 89
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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