(Host) Former Governor Howard Dean is back at the center of the health care reform debate in Washington.
Dean says the time has come for Senate Democratic leaders to kill the current health care reform bill because it’s no longer worth supporting.
Dean is upset that the Democrats appear willing to weaken a public option provision in the bill in order to secure the vote of Independent Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Last week, in an effort to help break a logjam over whether or not to include a public option in the bill, Dean dusted off one of his plans from his 2004 presidential race. He suggested to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that people between the ages of 55 and 65 be given the opportunity to buy into Medicare.
The compromise initially gained a fair amount of support, but over the weekend, Senator Lieberman said he would oppose it. Lieberman’s opposition is important because the Democrats need 60 votes to block a Republican filibuster of the bill and they need Lieberman’s support.
Dean, speaking from an airport in Puerto Rico, said the Democrats’ apparent decision to appease Lieberman has left them with a bill that’s not worth supporting. He thinks they should start over using a parliamentary procedure usually reserved for budget bills, known as reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of senators to pass.
(Dean) "This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. And, honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."
(Kinzel) Dean defended using this alternative budget approach for a policy bill. He argues it’s been used more than 20 times by recent presidents.
(Dean) "The American people don’t care how we get this, as long as we get a decent process. The Republicans in the Senate will moan and groan, but they’re out of touch with where America really is. You have the vast majority of Americans want the choices, they want real choices. They don’t have them in this bill. This is not health care reform and it’s not close to health care reform."
(Kinzel) Dean says there are a number of good elements in the current Senate bill, like more money for community health centers, which should now be passed on their own:
(Dean) "There are some good things in this bill, but they’re small, and let’s have a small bill for this $32 billion. Doesn’t sound like a small amount, but compared to a trillion dollars – 27 percent of which is going to go to the insurance companies’ pockets, it’s a small price to pay to help community health care centers and prevention and wellness programs."
(Kinzel) In recent months, Dean has emerged as a leading liberal advocate for health care reform and his comments to kill the current bill could encourage some progressive members of the Senate to rethink their support for the legislation.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier