Art Cullen

Harkin: Reform Will Pass

Sen. Tom Harkin was in a chipper mood after his recent appointment as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and following President Obama’s terrific address on health care before a joint session of Congress. The Iowa Democrat told us during an interview that a health care reform package with some sort of a public option will pass Congress this fall.

Harkin told us there will be 60 votes in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor for action. That avoids a Republican filibuster. He added that there will be 51 votes for the bill in the final Senate action.

So what of all the talk about Blue Dog Democrats, like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, not supporting the President? And what of the talk that progressives, like Harkin, would not support a bill if a public option were not included?

“Look, everyone jockeys for power around here,” Harkin replied.

Don’t make too much of the wobblers.

In the end, he suggested, no Democrat would bar his colleagues from a health care reform bill from being debated on the Senate floor. Sen. Nelson suggested as much. He said that Obama’s speech was “a bit of a game changer” and that Obama could count him in the President’s camp. Conservative Democrats have been looking for a reason to rally around their leader, and Obama delivered it with passion and grace on national television.

Harkin may have been counting on the Massachusetts legislature to change the law to let Gov. Deval Patrick name an interim senator to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. There were 59 Democrats in the Senate with the death of Kennedy and it’s still a long shot that a Republican will furnish the 60th vote to stop a GOP filibuster. It also suggests that senators like Nelson are wringing their hands at town hall meetings, but are saying something different in the Senate Democratic Caucus room.

Democrats from conservative districts know that their goose is cooked if Obama fails. So they will go along to get the bill to the floor, then vote against it when the debate ends for the edification of the home base constituents.

Next year, then, we will have the following:

• Insurance companies will not be able to turn you down or dump you for pre-existing conditions.

• There will be no deductible or co-pays for preventative care such as mammograms or colorectal screening.

• Limits will be placed on how much anyone has to pay in the event of catastrophic or chronic conditions. Nobody in America should go bankrupt because they are sick, Obama said.

• There will be no cuts to Medicare for individual seniors.

• Within four years, there will be a national insurance exchange including a public option sponsored by the government, yet self-supporting, where any citizen can shop for the best deal. Currently, there is a near-monopoly in rural Iowa by one insurer.

• Every citizen will be required to have health insurance, just as Iowa requires that everyone have auto liability insurance. We are currently subsidizing through our insurance plans people without health insurance who show up at the hospital emergency room for care.

• The plan will be financed by cost-savings (which we doubt) and by higher taxes on the wealthiest among us.

That package will bring relief to millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and get quality health care.

Harkin is now in a position of immense influence to see all this through. He assumed the chairmanship of the Senate HELP Committee with the death of Chairman Kennedy. Harkin will relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., but will remain a senior member of that committee. Southern and Midwestern agriculture interests often are at odds, but Harkin promises that there is sufficient Midwestern weight on the Ag Committee to protect the interests or corn and soybean growers. Further, Harkin noted that a five-year farm bill already passed with wide bipartisan support under his leadership. So there really isn’t much for him to tend in that field for a few years.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2009

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