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Washington Examiner


Obamacare and Kennedy's Legacy

September 02, 2009

By Paul Howard

Ted Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate, has been laid to rest. But his legacy on health care reform, the issue he called “the cause of my life,” is in peril.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems determined to pass a health care bill that will drive the nation deeper into debt, lead to sweeping government intervention in private health care markets, and still leave millions uninsured.

Liberal Democrats — perhaps using Kennedy’s death as a rallying cry — may try a “go it alone” strategy that relies on a parliamentary procedure known as “reconciliation” to pass central planks of their health-reform legislation in the Senate with just 51 votes.

The Democrats are taking a politically dangerous gamble that’s unlikely to succeed in the long run. It’s not clear that they have the votes, and they clearly risk alienating moderate Democrats who are uncomfortable with the reconciliation route, like Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Also, ramming through unpopular, costly legislation is likely to anger many Americans deeply concerned about the costs of the Democrats’ proposed health plans and their effects on private health coverage just before midterm elections in 2010.

If President Barack Obama wants to secure Kennedy’s legacy — and his own — he should scrap the partisan House bill and pursue new legislation that is less ideological and more inclusive of the views of conservatives and moderates in both parties.

Polls reflect declining support for the Democratic health care agenda. The president’s own approval ratings, once near 70, are now down around 50.An Aug. 11 Rasmussen survey also indicates that a majority of those surveyed (53 percent) oppose the Democrats’ plans.

Kennedy’s passing will do nothing to alleviate Americans’ fears about massive new spending, a “public option” that will drive private insurance companies out of business, and new insurance regulations that will increase health care costs.

Kennedy was a bold Democratic warrior, but he was also a pragmatist when he needed to be. During the 1970s, he even supported deregulation of the airline and trucking industries that increased competition and lowered costs — though deregulation is traditionally a conservative specialty.

He found ways to compromise on key issues that led to lasting reforms, often with the co-sponsorship of his good friend and conservative, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. On health care, he was shrewd enough to recognize that his preferred solution, a government-run system, simply wasn’t viable.

The president can honor the pragmatic vein of Kennedy’s legacy by focusing on consensus reforms that both liberals and conservatives support. For instance, Americans with serious pre-existing conditions like cancer who don’t get insurance through their employers or qualify for existing government programs shouldn’t be denied affordable, high-quality private coverage. Federal funding should be expanded for state high-risk pools that offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Consensus also exists for creating health exchanges that allow consumers to choose from a range of private health-insurance choices; enacting tort reform to reduce frivolous medical malpractice litigation; and eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse from the government’s health care programs for the elderly (Medicare) and poor (Medicaid).

Together, these reforms would reduce the number of uninsured, lower the cost of health insurance through choice and competition, and help control federal spending.And yes, the president should take the divisive and unworkable public option off of the table.

Kennedy was a master of the art of timely compromise. His death will be acutely felt in the weeks and months to come, but Obama can learn from Kennedy’s example. To get health care reform passed in his first term, the president must find common ground with conservatives and moderates.

Original Source:



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