Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Senators Murray & Cantwell on prognosis for healthcare reform: A tough path ahead

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet with our state's two senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, through a Lead America summer program at Georgetown. I took the opportunity to talk to both senators about healthcare reform and solving the crisis for NPI. As many readers know, prospects for getting strong bills out of either house aren't looking good at this point.

The bill approved by the Senate's HELP (Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions) Committee, which Patty Murray sits on, includes a public option, which is the foundation of any real reform.

I thanked Senator Murray in person for repeatedly and publicly voicing her support of the public option, and asked what she thought about the future of the bill.

For Senator Murray, the principal work is over because she does not sit on the Finance Committee. That Committee, one of the Senate's largest, is chaired by Montana's Max Baucus, who is uncommitted to a public option.

When asked whether the whole Senate will be voting on legislation built around a public option, Senator Murray responded, "I just don't know". She acknowledged that the Finance Committee is currently in the driver's seat on the matter.

Later on, I met with Washington State's other Senator, Maria Cantwell, who is a member of the Finance Committee. I asked Senator Cantwell if she thinks a public option will make it to the floor. She hedged and said it might not happen.

Senator Cantwell told me that the bill will probably not be what I want. Note the pronoun choice: she used "I" instead of "we", even though she herself has claimed to be in support of a public option, which is how I phrased the question.

Why can't the Finance Committee go ahead and approve a bill with a public option? Well, first, because Chairman Baucus isn't sure his constituents are in favor of a public option (sorry, did I say constituents? I meant lobbyists) and, second, because Baucus wants the bill to have bipartisan support; as Senator Cantwell explained, three Republican votes are needed on the floor to pass a bill.

(See, letting a few Republicans dictate details - so we can bargain for their votes - is apparently more important than actually sticking to the principles the President has already promised that healthcare reform will be designed around).

My thought was, why do we need three Republican votes, Senator? Didn't the Republicans routinely pass bills with fifty one votes when they ran the Senate?

Senator Cantwell responded with an answer that would make any progressive who cares about any issue cringe. The United States Senate, she said, just doesn't operate in a purely democratic fashion. (At least not in the Harry Reid Era.)

She revealed that Republicans are filibustering pretty much everything; there have been ninety filibusters so far in this Congress. Worse, she believes reconciliation is not an option for a major issue like healthcare reform.

She further stated that if we could get enough Senators to ignore the traditions of the Senate, we would be able to pass bills with fifty one votes.

Of course, this is not Senator Cantwell's fault. Harry Reid leads the caucus. And he's letting conservative Democrats and Republicans control the Senate.

In other words, because Harry Reid is such an ineffective Majority Leader, sixty is the new fifty one. On paper, we have those sixty votes, but in reality, we don't, because Senators Kennedy and Byrd are ill and frequently not available. So even though we've got all these new freshman Democratic senators - a far cry from where we were in the last Congress, when Democrats barely controlled the chamber - we're still at the mercy of Republicans. Come again?

Max Baucus' stance that we have to find Republican votes for healthcare reform is thus blessed by the Majority Leader. But a growing number of Democratic senators seem to think he's just not doing a good job. There are rumblings that perhaps it's time to replace Baucus as chairman.

And if those answers were not discouraging enough, the Senate is dawdling with the Waxman/Markey bill. That legislation, H.R. 2454, which aims to curb emissions through the establishment of a "cap and trade" system, has only a forty to fifty percent chance of passing the Senate, according to Senator Cantwell, who believes a price needs to be put on carbon.

A big part of the President's progressive agenda looks imperiled at this point. Party because of weak Democratic leadership in the United States Senate.

Now is the time to call your Senators. The lines are, to use an old cliche, ringing off the hook. According to the folks who answer phone calls for our Senators, healthcare is a top issue of concern. Surprise, surprise.

Anecdotally, in the combined thirty minutes I was waiting to see the Senators I must have heard at least twenty calls about healthcare reform. Calls are coming in roughly even supporting the public option and going against it, staff say.

All we can do is continue applying pressure. Senators will soon be back at home and meeting with constituents about these issues during the August recess. They need to see nothing short of a tremendous progressive grassroots uprising to demonstrate that people are sick and tired of politics getting in the way of desperately need solutions in our nation's capital.


Blogger The Raven said...

Daniel, the Senate is dominated by its conservatives, which is all of the Republicans and half the Democrats. The country is still not desperate enough to get the policy-makers to act. Has there ever been a time in US history when the Senate was not corrupt and obstructionist?

July 31, 2009 8:06 PM  
Blogger Steve Zemke said...

Good Post. The lesson here is that if you are not communicating with Senators Murray and Cantwell in support of a public option, you are helping to let the Republicans run the show.

Riase your voice and speak out. Don't assume that your friends and neighbors and fellow Democrats and public option supporters are communicating with the Senate. Ask them if they are and ask them to e-mail or call. Only if enough people speak out will the public option be able to prevail.

July 31, 2009 9:25 PM  
Blogger OneLiberalVoice said...

I write to Cantwell and Murray all the time. Repeatedly about health care. So far, I think I've gotten a single response from someone from Cantwell's staff. They're not much for corresponding with their constituents, it seems. Maybe this month-long vacation from work will allow them to catch up on their emails. I won't hold my breath.

August 1, 2009 3:30 PM  
Blogger Paradigm said...

> I write to Cantwell and Murray all the time. Repeatedly about health care. So far, I think I've gotten a single response from someone from Cantwell's staff.

That's because liberals don't listen most of the time. There's a reason why FOX News does so well in the ratings and CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, etc do so poorly. I'd love to say that's not the case, but the results are too loud to ignore.

One thing that irks me about this whole thing is that the democrats have done a spectacularly poor job of letting their constituency know how long it will be before they see these benefits. In some cases it may take 7-10 years, but it will at least be 2013 before anyone sees an insurance card from the government. They have their lumpen proletariat thinking that benefits will start in November if this thing passes in October. Classic.

Bottom line, they're politicians and 99% of what comes out of their mouth is B.S. That rule goes for both Dems and Republicans. The stimulus package is a perfect example. The economy is improving in spite of that spending orgy, yet the government is trying desperately to reap the credit for the recession ending. Unfortunately, this time it's not working for them. The only people who believe the gov't had anything to do with fixing the economy are the lumpen proletariat I mentioned earlier.

August 3, 2009 7:01 AM  
Blogger David Winchester said...

I keep running into this website in search of Senator Cantwell's Recess Schedule. I would very much like to be everywhere she is to tell her what it means to pass real health care reform and support President Obama. I have written, called, emailed, visited, spoken with staffers and nothing seems to work. I just want to let her know there is one person in Tacoma that will not vote for her if she doesn't get on board.

As for the rest of the information I have read here, what is going on with the Democrats? Don't they understand WE THE PEOPLE voted for change and they are standing in the way? It will be very difficult to suck money from lobbyists and special interests if they don't occupy the office. I say vote 'em out if they don't listen to us.

August 5, 2009 7:25 PM  

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