No Public Option: Worse Than Nothing?

In search of the elusive, filibuster-proof 60th vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eviscerated the Senate’s health care reform bill on Tuesday. Potential GOP swing voter Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) confirmed that Reid promised to kill both the public option and the expanded Medicare buy-in, according to Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo.

Snowe didn’t pledge to support the bill, of course. She didn’t even promise to cooperate on the procedural votes required to pass the bill before Christmas, a deadline that the Obama administration has its heart set on. In other words, Reid gave away the progressive crown jewels of health reform on spec to a senator who cheerfully turned around and continued the Republican stalling strategy. From Snowe’s vantage point, that’s a great move. The longer the bill hangs in limbo, the more Reid will give away.

Former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-CT) seems determined to kill the bill. Lieberman must be motivated more by a desire to spite liberals than any principled policy stance. He keeps threatening to filibuster policy proposals he once campaigned on, like the Medicare buy-in. Lee Fang of TAPPED notes that Lieberman told the New York Times that he now opposes the buy-in because it’s beloved of lefty single-payer types like Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY); and the policy wonk behind the public option, Prof. Jacob Hacker.

The Women’s Media Center has launched the #UnderTheBus campaign, which calls on supporters to contact their representatives and urge them not to let Lieberman and his close, anti-choice ally Ben Nelson (D-NE) sell out women’s health care for political gain. Nelson has hinted he won’t vote for the bill unless it contains strong abortion funding restrictions.

Stephanie Mencimer reports in Mother Jones that a bunch of teabaggers decided to stage a sit-in to oppose the health bill at Lieberman’s office. Mark Meckler and some Tea Party Patriots showed up at Lieberman’s office and asked to meet with the senator. When they were told he wasn’t available, they all sat down. When they tried that routine at Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office (D-CA), her staff ignored them. Lieberman’s staff called the cops. (Note to teabaggers: Sit-ins are for enemies, not allies.)

The senate bill is so watered down that it wouldn’t even stop insurance companies from capping benefits, as Roger Bybee reports at Working In These Times.

Rep. Darcy Burner (D-WA) says she’d rather kill the bill than vote for it in its current state. She argues that if health care reform doesn’t curb costs, it’s just a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. She writes in AlterNet:

The fundamental failing of the newest Senate proposal is that it requires individuals to purchase health insurance, but does nothing to rein in what insurance companies charge. There is nothing to stop spiraling health costs from eating up an ever-increasing percentage of our national productivity.

The House bill has two major cost-control mechanisms: the public option and the 85 percent medical-loss ratio requirement. The Senate bill is on track to have neither, and nothing new to replace them. The Senate bill is a recipe for national disaster. If it’s that bill or nothing, I prefer nothing.

Adding insult to injury, the Senate also voted down a bill yesterday that would have made it easier for consumers to purchase cheaper prescription drugs abroad. Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent suggests that the White House was relieved to see the Dorgan-Snowe bill defeated because it would have violated the deal it struck with pharmaceutical companies earlier this year. The drug companies promised up to $80 billion for health care reform if Democratic leaders withheld support for several initiatives that would cut into drug company profits.

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