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If We Don't Fix the Senate's Miserable Health Bill, the Repercussions Could Last for Decades

Calling the Senate's health bill a "awesome achievement" like Paul Krugman did is to encourage the preservation of a hideously broken system.
 
 
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With Monday morning's 1 a.m. 60-40 vote, the Senate's health care bill took another step towards passage, prompting a fresh round of public celebrations. "I think it's very exciting," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told HuffPost. "It's a big day."

Even many of those with serious reservations about the bill were slipping on their party hats. "Make no mistake about it," said SEIU president Andy Stern, "for working Americans, this vote signals progress."

And Paul Krugman, while calling the legislation "a seriously flawed bill we'll spend years if not decades fixing," applauded it as "an awesome achievement."

This typifies the current thinking of the "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" crowd. Unfortunately, there are three faulty premises at work in this line of reasoning. First, that those who oppose the bill do so because it's not perfect (as opposed to because it's a hot health care mess). Second, that the bill is, well, good (as opposed to a total victory for Pharma and the insurance industry -- witness the spectacular spike in health care stocks following Monday's vote).

Third is the premise that this is as good a bill as we can get right now, and we can always go back and improve it later.

It doesn't work that way. We heard the same kinds of sentiments about No Child Left Behind when it passed in 2001. Backers on both sides of the aisle had problems with it, but both sides celebrated it as a major step forward -- and promised to make it better in the future.

"The agreement we reached reflects the best thinking of both sides," said Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"This was a reform bill. We can't have reform without resources, and that will be the next step," said Sen. Tom Daschle.

"This is a good bill... And there are going to be many additional steps that will be necessary along the way, but all of us are committed to following in those steps," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, the primary Democratic co-sponsor of the bill.

But despite the widespread commitment to taking the "many additional steps" needed, the steps were never taken, the resources were never allocated, the bill was never improved, and, indeed, is now generally regarded as a disaster (or, as Bill Clinton put it last year, "a train wreck").

In an ominous sign of things to come, Vicki Reggie Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy's widow, made many of the same arguments that were used in support of No Child Left Behind in her Washington Post op-ed promoting passage of the current health care bill.

It's a moving piece of writing -- and nobody doubts her late husband's heartfelt dedication to health care reform. But nobody doubted his dedication to education reform, either.

If the miserable Senate health care bill becomes the law of the land, it's only going to encourage the preservation of a hideously broken system. Just how broken the system is is summed up in the fate of Byron Dorgan's drug re-importation amendment.

This is an idea that Obama co-sponsored when he was in the Senate and unequivocally championed on the campaign trail: "We'll allow the safe re-importation of low-cost drugs from countries like Canada."

But when Dorgan introduced an amendment that would do just that, the White House, sticking to the deal it made with the pharmaceutical industry, lobbied against it -- and the commissioner of the supposedly non-political FDA just happened to release a letter citing "significant safety concerns" about all those dangerous drugs from Canada. Big Pharma's many congressional lackeys trumpeted the letter and the amendment was killed.