The Senate debate on health care reform is starting to wind down as we approach the Christmas holiday. This comes after the House of Representatives passed a bill with a public option funded largely by rolling back tax cuts on the rich.
The original Senate proposal involved a public option funded on what amounts to a tax on health benefits, primarily 'cadillac insurance plans' which under a public-option system would be high-cost premium private plans. In other words, both public option plans would have cut the deficit, lowered the cost of health care, and received funding not from new taxes on the working classes, but on restored tax levels on the rich.
Unfortunately, this was not good enough for many conservative and moderate Democrats in the Senate, so a compromise was formed that scrapped the best part of the plan, the public option, and replaced it with a higher threshold for medicaid qualification and an option to buy into the Medicare system at the age of 55. It was hoped that by making this sacrifice, conservative and moderate members of the Democratic caucus would help prevent a filibuster.
Then the most powerful man in the Senate had his say. Connecticut independent Senator Joe Lieberman decided that he could not support a plan with a medicare buy-in option because it amounted, in is eyes, to the same thing as a public option.
If this really is a principled stand from Senator Lieberman, then he should be commended for standing up for his principles in the face of unanimous opposition from his caucus. However, Lieberman has gone on record in the past supporting an expansion of Medicare. This reeks of political opportunism at the worst possible time for the president, his party, and the country as a whole. Lieberman is a grinch! If the current private-sector health care system is allowed to continue without substantial reform, the system will go bankrupt and only the large donors to the Republican Party will be able to afford the cost of insuring themselves.
As of right now I have substantial doubts as to whether a bill in any form will pass the Senate before the Christmas holiday. Given the substantial differences at this point between what the Senate is considering and the bill that the House passed, there is no way that Congress will be done conferencing on the bill before the holiday.
Thus, I predict that Obama will not get his Christmas wish of a health care reform bill on his desk, and any reform bill that might make it there will be a huge disappointment -- unless, of course, Joe Lieberman's heart grows three sizes this week.