Thursday, December 17, 2009

Warning: Trying To Reform Health Care Is Hazardous To Your Political Career

The train may not be in the station yet, but I can see the smoke and hear the chugging. Unless it slows down or stops, health care reform is going to be the issue that kills many a Democratic congressional career next November.

The warning signs are there. We are seeing the Spruce Goose health care bill watered down to reach that 60-vote filibuster-breaking threshold. Sen. Joe Lieberman is satisfied, but Sen. Ben Nelson still wants more restrictions on abortion funding. And if the bill somehow makes it to conference, Southern Arizona's Rep. Raul Grijalva indicates he won't vote for something that isn't tilted enough to the left. The entire health care debate is turning into a gigantic game of a Whack-A-Mole.

The possible end product is a bill telling us to take two aspirin and call our doctors in the morning. A lot of you won't mind that; I oppose the current health care reform package simply because this nation can't afford it. I wish I had the smarts to offer a workable solution, but insurance reform would be a good start. I wish Republicans could stop flogging each other long enough to put together something like the Contract With America for health care.

Democrats are now fighting a two-front war: on defense from the right, who says their reforms go too far, and the left, who says it doesn't go far enough. With campaign season right around the corner, they are finding themselves right back where they were in 1994, when President Clinton's health care plan nearly nuked them. (To be sure, a large number of retirements did not help, something the party leadership is trying to prevent this time around.)

We want reform. We need reform. But Congress just can't pull it off. And if we gut the ranks next November, don't expect any self-surviving pol to go near the issue again for a long time. Perhaps lawmakers will try fixing health care in bites instead of offering an entire course. After this episode, however, I see a lot of people losing their appetites.

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