Dean's Call For A Do-Over Is Probably The Best Way To Kill Health Care : It's All Politics Some argue that Howard Dean's calling for a "do over" on the Senate health care bill could very well kill the legislation for this Congress — and maybe for a long time.
NPR logo Dean's Call For A Do-Over Is Probably The Best Way To Kill Health Care

Dean's Call For A Do-Over Is Probably The Best Way To Kill Health Care

Dean's 50-state strategy while DNC chair was a success, but some Democrats still fought him all the way. hide caption

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Dean's 50-state strategy while DNC chair was a success, but some Democrats still fought him all the way.

We know where nearly all, if not all, Senate Republicans stand on the current version of health care legislation in that chamber: they're opposed to it. If they had their way, they would rip up the bill and start from scratch. Of course, in doing so, it would make passage far less likely, pushing back its progress months, if not years, which may be their ultimate goal.

In suggesting the same thing, Howard Dean could be proposing a similar end result.

Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic national chair who is a widely respected voice on health care among progressives, is unhappy over the concessions Majority Leader Harry Reid made to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to get him to come on board. Without the public option and the Medicare buy-in element, Dean says, the bill is fatally flawed. Arguing that no bill is better than this one, Dean says the Senate should start all over.

And that has led to a debate over what Dean is up to.

Writing in the Atlantic, Ron Brownstein says, "Maybe one reason former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and so much of the digital Left can so casually dismiss the Senate health care reform bill is that they operate in an environment where so few people need to worry about access to insurance." Brownstein notes that what propelled Dean to national prominence were for the most part "college-educated white liberals," a group "much less likely than any other segment of the population to lack health insurance." And, he says, Dean may be sacrificing the bill itself:

No president has ever come as close as Barack Obama is today to moving the nation toward universal health coverage; no universal coverage bill had ever before passed the House, nor has one ever advanced as far in the Senate as the bill now under debate. For Dean to insist that Senate Democrats start over after that grueling struggle is a little like suggesting that American troops on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945 should have retreated back to France because D-Day wasn't choreographed just right.

A similar point was made by Katie Connolly, writing in Newsweek's The Gaggle blog:

I think what Dean is not seeing is that this bill, as imperfect as it is, represents the best chance for meaningful health reform in the next thousand years. If this fails, I cannot imagine that another president will ever try again—a point Obama made just last week.

Laws can be fixed and amended. Social Security and Medicare have been changed multiple times, as was welfare. Surely, there will be time to reconsider a Medicare buy-in or public option in a little while, once politicians stop playing games and actually do the bidding of the people who elected them. Millions of Americans have made it crystal clear that the current state of health care in this country must change. As Dean said himself in 2003 when he announced his bid for the presidency: "At every turn, when there has been an imbalance of power—the truth questioned, or our beliefs and values distorted—the change required to restore our nation has always come from the bottom up from our people." So why is Dean opposed to realizing the biggest domestic initiative that Obama and the Democrats in Congress were elected to do? Maybe Dean is just a left-wing mirror image of Lieberman: a presidential also-ran trying to stay relevant and get attention.

Connolly's argument, and I've seen this elsewhere as well, is that there are always opportunities to fix imperfect bills; witness the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which came a year after the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But one would think that conservatives, who would love to see this bill go away, might be cheering Dean on, even a little bit. Rich Lowry, the editor for National Review, writes admiringly, somewhat, of Dean's position:

Howard Dean's constant refrain now is that the bill isn't reform. He's right. It is an incoherent grab bag that doesn't improve on the current system — it just adds to it. ...

Practically the only people who think passing the bill in its current form is a good idea are Democratic congressmen. Much better to take Dean's advice and dump it. The Left and Right can continue to battle it out over what constitutes true reform, with the voters ultimately deciding. In the meantime, everyone will be spared a more perverse version of the status quo, prominently featuring the hated individual mandate.

Meanwhile, Doug Heye, writing in Politico, wonders what would have happened if Barack Obama "hadn't ostracized" Dean following his election:

By saying that Democrats in the presidential, senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial contests would compete from Wasilla, Alaska, to Winston-Salem, N.C. — and backing it up with resources — Dean helped make Barack Obama's win a reality. One could argue, in fact, that the "Dean scream" laid out the road map for Obama's victory.

How were Dean's efforts rewarded?

He got fired.

When Obama gained the White House, the message was clear: "Gov. Howard Dean, you're out. Gov. Tim Kaine, you're in." Unnecessarily adding insult to injury, Obama waited until Dean was about as far away from Washington as possible — in American Samoa, to be precise — before paying a visit to the DNC.

After former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) removed himself from consideration to be Health and Human Services secretary, Howard Dean — a former Vermont governor, health care advocate and doctor — was given no chance at the slot. ...

And what to make of Dean's calling for scuttling the bill?

Dean's reaction should be as shocking as learning there was gambling at Rick's American Cafe. He's been telegraphing it for months, for reasons based on both principle and personality. The principle: Dean's long-held belief in greater government involvement in health care. The personality: the backhanded treatment by Obama.

The Obama administration has not simply ignored Dean all year; it has publicly insulted and antagonized him. The administration willfully created this situation and is now reaping what it has sown.

Elections have consequences, we're often reminded. So, too, do appointments and nominations. Establishment Democrats angry at Dean should ask themselves a simple question: Would a Howard Dean as HHS secretary — would a Howard Dean who had been engaged and not ostracized — be a supporter or an opponent of the president's health reform plan?