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The Senate’s Weak Health Care Bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “got to 60” at 1:08 yesterdaymorning, clearing a key Republican hurdle and keeping the Senate’sversion of a health care reform bill on track for passage beforeChristmas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “got to 60” at 1:08 yesterday morning, clearing a key Republican hurdle and keeping the Senate’s version of a health care reform bill on track for passage before Christmas.

But, while Reid appears to have a bill, he does not have a happy caucus. Even as they voted for the measure, progressive senators were saying they hoped reform would not ultimately look like the bill they are now rushing to passage.

It is no secret that the White House abandoned efforts to pass a real reform measure weeks ago.

Indeed, President Obama’s Dec. 6 speech to Democratic senators — in which he failed to express support either for a government-supported public option or expansion of Medicare — was seen by many on Capitol Hill as having strengthened the hand of Sen. Joe Lieberman, who demanded that measures designed to hold private insurers to account be stripped from the Senate bill.

While other Democratic senators have been cautious about stating the obvious, Sen. Russ Feingold pulled no punches in his response to the watered-down legislation being advanced by Reid, with whom he has historically had very good relations.

“I’ve been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and

bring health care spending down. Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle,” the senator said. “Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included.”

Despite the need for improvement, Feingold decided to back the compromised plan at least in part to move the process — which might yet improve the measure — forward.

“[While] the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high,” explained the senator. “This bill significantly expands coverage ... The bill also improves a flawed Medicare formula ... encourages the kind of low-cost, high-value care ... and reduces federal budget deficits by $132 billion over the next decade.”

– John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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