Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Waiting for Godot (a.k.a. Senator Joe)

With apologies to Samuel Beckett, I take the liberty of adapting lines from his great play, "Waiting for Godot," to describe how President Obama and Majority Leader Reid must be talking about Joe Lieberman:

Obama: Let's go.
Reid: We can't.
Obama: Why not?
Reid: We're waiting for Senator Joe.
Obama: (despairingly) Ah!


Page: (in a rush) Senator Joe told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.
Obama: Well, shall we go?
Reid: Yes, let's go. (They do not move.)

In the week since the Democrats announced a tentative deal on a compromise on the public plan option, President Obama and Majority Leader Reid have been waiting for Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to inform them if he will give them the 60th vote needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. This, plus the wait to get a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. They need and want to go to the next step, but they dare not move.

The Washington Post reports that Senator Joe is "warming" to the bill, now that Senator Reid has agreed to drop any form of the public plan and a Medicare buy-in. This is what Senator Joe had to say:

"We've got a great health insurance reform bill here. And the danger was that some of my colleagues, I think, were just trying to load it up with too much. And what happens then is that you run the risk of losing everything. So I think what's beginning to emerge -- though I know some people are not happy about it -- is really a historic achievement, health care reform such as we've not seen in this country for decades."

This doesn't mean the bill it out of the woods yet. Lieberman's statement stopped short of the unequivocal "I now promise that I will vote for the bill" commitment that Reid and Obama want. There are still a few other uncommitted Democrats that Reid needs -- most notably, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has threatened to vote with the GOP to filibuster bill if language on abortion coverage is not changed to his liking. And the Democrats hold out some hope that Republican Olympia Snow (R-ME) will vote with them.

The problem for the Democrats is that Reid must file the first procedural cloture vote no later than Thursday, if he has any hope of getting it passed by Christmas.

The death of the public option has angered many progressives. But a bill that would expand coverage to 94% of all legal residents, begin to bend the cost curve, and regulate insurance industry practices that deny access to needed care still has a lot to say for it. We'll find out in the next 48 hours if 60 members of the U.S. Senate agree.

Today's question: What do you think of the decision to drop the public option and Medicare buy-in to win the vote of Senator Joe and other uncommitted Democrats?


Rich Neubauer MD said...

Maybe after health care reform is done we can have reform of the US Senate rules and procedures.

The bottom line remains unchanged despite all the recent maneuverings: a bill of some form needs to emerge from the Senate in order to proceed to the next step of reconciliation with the already passed House bill. Perhaps in the end, if we ever get to that point, a public option trigger will yet emerge.

At this point, I think even some health care reform afficionatos are getting tired of these endless maneuverings. There may be some virtue in hibernation. Rip Van Winkle probably never worried about waiting for Godot.

Steve Lucas said...

I am not a fan of the public option or Medicare buy-in due to cost. That does not mean we can ignore the problems, only that we must continue the search for cost effective solutions.

This bill is going to have massive unintended consequences that we will be sorting out for years to come. Let's start with those items most people can agree on and work on the remaining problems over time.

Steve Lucas