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August 20, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Harry Reid’s steady hand

Senate majority leader, in advancing health care reform, shows his influence

In the Democratic-run Senate, there are enough votes to pass meaningful health care reform legislation largely along the lines offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — if it were simply about the legislation’s merits. There are just 40 Republicans in the Senate, but over the weekend this tyranny of the minority tried to block the Senate from even discussing the legislation, which would be the most significant health care initiative since the creation of Medicare more than four decades ago. It takes 60 votes to permit debate on legislation, and usually this is a mere formality. But the Senate Republican leadership has been waging hyperpartisan politics to try to stymie the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Along the way they have engaged in the same kind of fear tactics that Republicans used to try to derail Social Security and Medicare. They are claiming today, as they did then, that government involvement is socialism. Try to imagine a United States of America today without these safety nets. For that matter, if guaranteed health care is OK for individuals 65 and over, why shouldn’t younger Americans be afforded the same protection?

Fortunately, all 58 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with Democrats stood together Saturday and voted to proceed with the debate. A couple of moderate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2010, Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, said that although they were in favor of continuing the debate, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll back health care reform legislation when it comes up for a final vote.

Nonetheless, for the time being at least, Republican leaders’ scaremongering efforts to persuade wavering Democrats and independents to side with them to short-circuit the debate didn’t work, although all Republicans stood together as an obstructionist bloc. Still, the question needs to be asked: Just what are the Republicans afraid of?

As Reid so aptly put it Saturday in addressing his colleagues: “After all, if we are not debating — if we refuse to let the Senate do its job — what are we doing here? If senators refuse to debate about a profound crisis affecting every single citizen, the nation must ask: In whose interest do you vote?

“Surely deliberating a health reform bill cannot be more difficult than deciding which to pay this month: your mortgage or your medical bills. It can’t be more painful than telling your child you can’t take him or her to the doctor because it costs too much. It can’t be more humbling than facing your own employees and telling them, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t count on me for your health insurance next year. You’re on your own.’ And it can’t be more upsetting than having an insurance company take away your coverage at the exact moment you need it the most.”

Although Reid was able to hold all the Democrats together this time, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats, signaled Sunday that they might join with Republicans on future procedural votes to block the health care reform legislation. Meanwhile, understanding the math involved, The New York Times reported Monday that Senate Democratic leaders will try to work with two of the more moderate Republicans, Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to see if they can find common ground.

Snowe, for example, has indicated her opposition in the past to the legislation that includes a public option. She instead favors a “trigger,” which would let a public option come into being in states only if, after time, not enough people are able to get affordable insurance.

We think Reid has offered a sensible alternative that would seem to meet the concerns of Snowe and others who are concerned about a public option. The Reid alternative would be to let states opt out of participating in a public option. So it would appear that at least a couple of Republicans might be willing to compromise.

Reid, who is up for reelection in 2010, comes from a centrist state that often votes for conservative politicians, so he has a lot riding on his decision to personally steer health care reform legislation through the Senate. The politically safe course would have been for Reid to let someone else carry the legislation instead of having all of the partisan slings and arrows shot his way by the Republicans who so desperately want to see him defeated next year. Reid, unlike the Republican leaders, is displaying political courage — something Americans want to see in their elected officials.

We hope Republicans heed something else Reid said Saturday: “Do not try to silence a great debate over a great crisis. Do not let history show that when given the chance to debate and defend your position, to work with us for the good of our country and constituents, you ran and hid. You cannot wish away a great emergency by closing one’s eyes and pretending it doesn’t exist.”

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