Saturday, August 15, 2009

Howard Dean tells Netroots health care bill will happen, but will be 'ugly process'

Louis Corsaro (Pittsburgh Business Times):
Howard Dean is confident a health care bill with a public option will eventually land on President Obama’s desk, but says getting there won’t be easy.

“It will be an ugly process,” he told a group of 2,000 people attending the 2009 Netroots Nation convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Dean, former governor of Vermont, a 2004 presidential candidate and chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 until his retirement earlier this year, expects that, when all is said and done, Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, knows he must deliver a bill to the president that includes the public option.

“The only piece of reform left (in the bill) worth doing is the public option,” Dean said. “We have already compromised.”

That compromise, he said, was leaving single-payer health care off the table from the beginning. Despite any disagreements within the Democratic Party, Dean said he believes a bill with the public option will survive and every Democrat will have to vote for it.

Some of those Democrats who have differed with Obama’s plan are the so-called “Blue Dogs,” a group of moderate and conservative congressmen. While the Blue Dogs have taken a lot of heat for their stance on health care reform, Dean commended them for getting the small-business opt-out into the bill. Any small business with a $500,000 or smaller payroll will be exempted from offering employees health care. While Dean said he would be in favor of making a $1 million or less payroll and/or a company with 50 or fewer employees exempt, he said the provision makes it a better bill.
The framing of the debate

Asked about the contentious town halls that have been held around the country, where lawmakers have been shouted down and, in some cases, faced threats, Dean said “the debate is over.”

“The town halls are not about health care,” he said. “They’re about being angry.”

It’s also about generational change, he said, indicating the majority of the protesters at the town halls were older people, and their group was getting smaller and smaller.

“They don’t look anything like the generation that voted for Obama,” Dean said. “These people feel threatened.”

He likened it to when he signed off on civil unions as governor of Vermont. When he went to neighborhoods where he normally would be treated with applause and gratitude, he would instead be greeted by people shouting at him. The key, he said, is some people are resistant to change, because “a certain set of things they could believe in” were taken away.

While many progressive Democrats have decried Obama’s insistence on a bipartisan bill, claiming it was a useless exercise, Dean said Obama was being a savvy politician.

As long as Obama is entering into understanding he’ll get no Republican support, Dean said, it is important for the president to show he is trying to reach out across the aisle. And if there is no bipartisanship to be had, “let the Republicans say that.”

He claimed Republicans are uninterested in supporting any health care reform and cannot vote for it because they’ll take too much heat from their party’s leadership and base supporters.

In the end, Dean emphasized the critical nature of the public option in health care reform, and urged people to call lawmakers who are holding up the health care bill. A calling station was set up for Netroots attendees immediately following Dean’s address.
Dean made several other points during the question-and-answer session:

* Cost control is a must, he said, because health care costs have risen at 2.5 times the rate of inflation for about the last 30 years.
* Despite the criticism heaped on the pharmaceutical industry for their advertisements and high prices, Dean noted that they take up a small percentage of the cost of health care, and deliver innovations critical to Americans.
* He said the U.S. must raise reimbursement for primary care and help young doctors deal with the debt they incur for their education. These steps, he said, would encourage more doctors to enter primary care.

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