Among the articles of faith circulating in the liberal blogosphere is that killing the House Democrats' health care package (HR 3200) amounts to killing health care reform.* The argument goes that HR 3200 is the only way to get traction in the debate and must be supported, warts and all, because there's nothing else out there. Pass HR 3200, this thinking goes, and we'll fix its various problems in conference.
This is a mistake. The claim that HR 3200 is the last, best hope for health care reform is a myth. The thought that you are going to fix the numerous problems in HR 3200 in some backroom committee -- perhaps the committee envisioned by Publius, below? -- is ridiculous. The flaws with HR 3200 are addressed in detail in my prior post. They are fundamental. Even the politics are wrong. Mickey Kaus is right: This bill was misdescribed, mishandled, and dropped from the get go. The fractured House Democrats are unlikely to put the egg back together again.
But there are alternatives out there -- and some are even good ideas! One of these alternative bills is the Wyden-Bennett plan, a bipartisan reform package promoted by Sens. Wyden (D-Ore) and Bennett (R-Utah). The Wyden-Bennett plan seems to be everyone's favorite health care reform package that no one thinks will pass, but that's because it has been exiled from the debate because of the House Democrats' insistence on HR 3200. With HR 3200's slow death, Wyden-Bennett's exile may finally be ending:
Washington »President Barack Obama has called some of Sen. Ron Wyden's ideas for fixing health care "radical."
Some colleagues have written them off as nonstarters, or ignored them altogether.
But the Oregon Democrat's approach -- built around a shopping model in which people would have the option of buying their own health insurance rather than being stuck with what they get through work -- has started attracting second and third looks.
There are actually fourteen current sponsors of the 2009 version of Wyden-Bennett, and they are almost equally split between Democrats and Republicans. That's more than twice the six-member "Baucus caucus." (And Baucus's group is reportedto be given serious consideration to the Wyden-Bennett plan.)
Although I'm not completely sold on Wyden-Bennett, there is a lot to like. It's clearly a quantum leap over HR 3200, or anything that has emerged from the House Democrats so far. My three criteria for any health care reform are (1) the reform results in substantially greater coverage; (2) the reform lets individuals choose their own health care by making health care personal, rather than dependent on having a job; and (3) the reform doesn't add to the deficit. Unlike the House Democrat bill, Wyden-Bennett accomplishes each of these objectives. Wyden-Bennett is estimated to result in 99% coverage. (That's better coverage, bye the by, then even House Democrats claimthat HR 3200 would deliver.) Wyden-Bennett largely severs health care insurance from employment, while providing protections from abuse. And Wyden-Bennett has been preliminarily scored by the CBO as deficit neutral.
And I'm not the only one who thinks Wyden-Bennett is a step in the right direction:
Ezra Klein (examining some criticisms of Wyden-Bennett): "I'm on the record in my admiration for the Wyden-Bennett health reform plan. I think it's better than what Barack Obama offered during the campaign and better than what we're likely to get come the end of this process."
Ruth Marcus: "The ... [alternative to HR 3200], which would, in a more perfect world, be my preference, is the measuredevised by the odd couple of the Senate, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Robert Bennett of Utah. This bill not only has the merit of being demonstrably bipartisan but has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office as fully paid for."
Roger Collier: "The bill is not beyond criticism, but anyone reading Senator Wyden’s speech on the Senate floor this past week [http://wyden.senate.gov/
newsroom/record.cfm?id=314529] , on the challenges of health care reform, will be struck with how much closer he seems to be to addressing the key issues than the proposals that have been emerging from various congressional committees over the past month."
David Brooks (remarking on the challenges facing Wyden-Bennett): "Democratic Senator Ron Wyden piped up and noted that he and Republican Senator Robert Bennett have a plan that repeals the exemption and provides universal coverage. The Wyden-Bennett bill has 14 bipartisan co-sponsors and the Congressional Budget Office has found that it would be revenue-neutral."
The Hill: "Republicans are so impressed with Wyden’s bill that some are convinced he represents President Obama’s best chance for getting major healthcare reform signed into law this Congress. .... Wyden’s support among Republicans is surprising because he is far from the far-right of his own party. He is the son of a muckraking journalist who smoked cigars with Fidel Castro. After college, Wyden founded the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, a liberal advocacy group for senior citizens that borrowed its name from the radical black-power activists of the 1960s, albeit with some humor."
And who opposes Wyden-Bennett? So far as I can determine, a lot of the vocal opposition has come from large unions and their backers. Large unions represent an interest group, which has negotiated better-than-average health care plans with their members; understandably, unions don't want the boat rocked for their members, even though other workers don't enjoy the same level of care. Other folks oppose Wyden-Bennett because it doesn't offer a pure enough "public option" for them. Of course, neither will the version of HR 3200 that's likely to emerge. Wyden-Baden also has the advantage of offering more complete coverage than HR 3200: Up to 99% coverage under Wyden-Baden, compared to a claimed 97% coverage under HR 3200. (Indeed, there's some debate regarding whether HR 3200 expands coverage at all.)
It's time to revisit Wyden-Bennett.
*UPDATE: By saying that this claim is "among the articles of faith" circulating in the liberal blogosphere, I don't mean that all liberals share it. [Whoops! Left out the "don't" in the first draft! Sorry.]