Health Care Reform: How Harry Reid Could Pull off a Miracle

Article excerpt

By giving ground on tort reform, Harry Reid could meet Republicans in the middle and pass meaningful health care reform for all Americans.

Public polls about healthcare reform show two things clearly: Most Americans want reform, but they don't want what President Obama and Congress have prescribed. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is pushing hard to pass a bill before Christmas. To reach 60 votes, he's tried - so far without success - to find a compromise between Democratic liberals and moderates.

Senator Reid is trying to placate all Democrats in the Senate because he has dim hopes of winning any Republican votes. In his past attempts to lobby Maine's moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Reid has come up empty handed and suffered their rebuke.

Actually, there is one way Reid could win over Republican votes, pass meaningful health reform for all Americans - and still try to protect a Democratic majority in Congress.

To pull off that feat, he'd have to give ground on an issue that most Democrats treat like kryptonite: tort reform. Tort reform is crucial because, without it, out-of-control lawsuits and no federal caps on medical malpractice liability will keep driving up healthcare costs and forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine.

Fake compromise

Democrats won't be eager to compromise on tort reform in part because they say they already made major concessions on abortion during the debate over the House version of healthcare reform. But a closer look shows this isn't the case. In order for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to eke out victory on the floor, she succumbed to the Roman Catholic bishops and allowed a vote on the Stupak amendment, which keeps taxpayer money from being used to finance abortions.

The Stupak amendment overwhelmingly passed with wide bipartisan support and gave the Democrats a 20-vote swing on the final bill. But the White House quickly sent out senior adviser David Axelrod to assure the party's liberal base that the Stupak language would be stricken from the final version of the bill.

So we see that Stupak wasn't so much a compromise as a shrill ploy to get votes. Recently, the Senate voted down an amendment similar to Stupak's by a 54 to 45 vote. The net result is a trillion- dollar, 2,000-page bill that does little to give the type of improvements that Americans want but adds more layers of federal bureaucracy and regulations.

Harry Reid's desperation

In the past month, Reid has been working overtime to woo skeptical Democrats like Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Reid hasn't gotten very far. At this point, it looks as if he won't be able to pass anything but endless Senate amendments or some watered- down compromise proposal that neither Republicans nor Democrats support.

Reid's desperation could prove to be the American people's best opportunity to get the reform they want and deserve. …