The Democrats face a serious political problem. Democrats control all levers of government. At the same time, the conservative ideology controls the House and in the Senate the ideologies are very close. Certainly, there are NOT 60 liberal votes in the Senate if they are needed to avoid a filibuster.
Now, when the president was popular, Nancy Pelosi could whip up the Conservative Blue Dogs and put them into line with liberal bills. Now, the president's popularity is in question. The popularity of the current health care bill is NOT in question. The public doesn't like it very much.
Yesterday, the Speaker proclaimed that she had the votes to get the current house version of health care reform passed. Today, the key committee again delayed its mark up session. Here's the bottom line. The Blue Dogs are NOT going to get on board with anything near what is currently in the House. Now, Senator Reid says that no bill will be created before the break and that echos thoughts by Senator Durbin.
The president needs to come to terms with reality. The current vision for health care reform doesn't have the votes. No matter what he does going forward will not suddenly reverse the momentum against it. His plan has been exposed as little more than a massive expansion of power and government scope. In a battle of party versus ideology, ideology won.
If the president wants to pass sweeping health care reform, he should look at a bill that has been stuck in committee. That bill is jointly sponsored by one Democrat and one Republican, Ron Wyden and Robert Bennett. The president wants universal coverage, lower cost, and to allow all those happy with their coverage to keep it. This bill would do the first two and can do the third. Here are some highlights.
All employers, along with individuals and the government, will share the responsibility of financing health care. During a two-year transition period, employers who provide employee health benefits would be required to convert their workers' health care premiums into higher wages. Employers who don't currently offer health benefits would have to make phased-in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," which would be used to provide financial assistance to individuals and families of modest income. After two years, all employers would make "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments would reflect the relative ability of small and large employers and low- and high-wage industries to make such payments, and would have no direct impact ON the coverage that is available to their employees.
Employees, in turn, would be required to purchase private health coverage with their higher wages. To ensure that it's affordable, the plan would fully subsidize the premiums for those who live below the poverty line. Those people between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line would also receive subsidies on a sliding scale to help pay their premiums.
Individuals would choose from a variety of private plans offered in their state. State-based Health Help Agencies (HHAs) would guide individuals through the enrollment process. These agencies would also provide consumers with unbiased information about competing private health plans and determine premium reductions that will ensure every American can afford their health plan. HHAs would ultimately lower administrative costs by coordinating payments from employers, individuals and the government.
As for the insurance companies, they would no longer be allowed to "cherry pick" their customers. Under the current system, insurance companies can pick and choose which customers they sign up -- typically the healthy ones -- and send those in fragile health to government programs more fragile than they are. The Healthy Americans Act stipulates that insurance companies be required to cover every individual who chooses to enroll and that they be prohibited from raising prices or denying coverage if individuals are sick or are at risk of becoming sick. Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age could no longer be used to determine eligibility or the price paid for insurance.
I don't want to make it seem as though I endorse this plan. I don't though there is a lot that I like in it. Instead, I want to point out that right now the dynamics of the legislature mean that any plan that would pass would look much more like this plan than what the president is trying without hope to get passed. This bill would mandate coverage of everyone. This plan would move much of our population from employer funded health insurance to individually funded health insurance. It would convert health insurance into higher wages. Both employers and employees would share in the cost of health insurance. This is the sort of idea that would get enough votes to pass.
The basic political problem is that while the president claims that his plan will lower costs, the public, and enough of the legislature, don't believe him. He can either continue to push forward hoping that somehow if he continues to say the same thing people will suddenly see "the light". On the other hand, he can take a step back and realize that the current path simply will not work. If the president were to embrace something like the Wyden/Bennett bill, that is something that could pass and he would get his sweeping health care reform. Now, we will see if President Obama is an ideologue or a shrewd politician. If he pivots and moves toward something like Wyden/Bennett, he'll get sweeping health care reform. If not, health care reform will fall apart and his presidency will be significantly damaged with it.
Both Pelosi and Reid have now backed away and health care reform doesn't look to move forward prior to the August break.
Also, check out this video on the topic.