Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
Once again, Harry Reid is demonstrating why his leadership in the Senate means so much to Nevada and to the nation as well.
On Tuesday the Senate majority leader announced what could be a breakthrough in the negotiations to get landmark health care reform legislation passed in the Senate. A group of moderate and liberal Democrats, with Reid’s encouragement, has been meeting in private, trying to reach common ground on issues that had been holding up President Barack Obama’s top priority in Congress.
It wasn’t all that long ago that it appeared the health care reform legislation, after having passed the House, was going to die in the Senate. That is because Republicans were willing to stick together and, using parliamentary maneuvers, block the legislation. Even though there are only 40 Republicans in the Senate, it takes 60 votes to cut off debate and bring legislation to a vote. A handful of moderate Democrats had reservations about health care reform, putting the legislation in doubt.
But a few weeks ago Reid showed courage by personally putting his stamp on a bill that advocated a public option if Americans couldn’t get health insurance on their own. Reid’s decision jump-started the legislation, but it still was meeting resistance. As the Las Vegas Sun’s Lisa Mascaro reported Tuesday, Reid told the 10 moderate and liberal Democratic senators this week to increase their efforts to find common ground.
It’s important to note that a final deal hasn’t been inked; details are still being worked out. But, in a nutshell, here is what is going on, according to news accounts: Liberal Democrats involved in the negotiations may relinquish their insistence on having a full-fledged public option. In return, moderate Democrats who worried about what they saw as unnecessary government involvement in health care may be willing to agree to a plan that would offer private health insurance under the purview of the federal employee health program for those who can’t get private health insurance on their own. Also, importantly, the budding compromise could allow millions of Americans from 55 to 64 buy into Medicare if they aren’t able to get insurance.
Reid has put a premium on passage of health care reform legislation. He understands that skyrocketing health insurance premiums are hurting businesses and need to be reined in. He also knows that we can’t tolerate situations where high medical bills threaten to bankrupt families or that people end up using emergency rooms to get care because they don’t have doctors.
Some of the initial reaction from Tuesday’s developments, from those who didn’t seem willing to compromise before, was positive. For instance, Howard Dean — a doctor, former governor, one-time presidential candidate and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee — has been championing a public option, but he offered encouraging words about the new direction in negotiations.
In particular, he said having a Medicare option for those 55 to 64 was a “positive step forward” in the debate. “Using Medicare makes more sense than reinventing more bureaucracy,” Dean said on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, also sounded hopeful. Lieberman, who represents Connecticut, home to some of the country’s largest insurance companies, has opposed a public option but he seemed optimistic. “I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus,” Lieberman said in a statement.
Of course, there was whining from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Here is what The Wall Street Journal reported McConnell as saying: “What’s becoming abundantly clear is that the majority will make any deal, agree to any terms, sign any dotted line that brings them closer to final passage of this bill.”
Such nonsense is coming from a man who has led the obstructionist fight against this essential legislation — McConnell hasn’t lifted a finger to try to pass legislation that would actually help Americans get health insurance coverage. We can see in this state just how great the need is for this legislation: It’s estimated that about 500,000 Nevadans don’t have health insurance.
A serious push for universal health care began when Harry Truman was president — six decades ago. There have been some attempts since then to provide health care coverage for Americans, but they haven’t really gotten past the talking stage. Bill Clinton pushed for universal health care in his first term as president, but his plan was stymied by Congress. In light of the fact that Reid needs to get 60 votes for passage, and that history tells us passing legislation to get medical care for Americans has been virtually impossible, it is truly remarkable that Reid has gotten this far.
Reid isn’t the most telegenic official; he doesn’t have the flash that other national politicians often possess. But Reid has a much more indispensable quality, one that residents of the other 49 states would love to have in their senators: Reid, as majority leader, is a tireless worker who understands how to get things done. Period.
We’re not sure if enough Nevadans comprehend just how important Reid is to the state. Nevertheless, the people of Nevada are fortunate to have a senator who understands what it means to do the heavy lifting, unglamorous part of legislating in Congress. The bottom line is that Harry Reid keeps fighting — even when the odds are seemingly insurmountable.