Don’t Let Reform Slip Away

Posted March 10, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.

Maine’s two senators hold the power and the leverage to end the yearlong legislative struggle to overhaul the American health care system. Both Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have called the present system unacceptable. The choice is between the law now taking shape in Congress and no reform law at all, perhaps for another generation.

Moderate Republicans and reluctant Democrats could well put aside any doubts and agree that even a flawed bill is better than nothing.

Flawed is the right word, of course, although one lawmaker’s flaw is another’s silver bullet. Sens. Snowe and Collins have valid objections and reservations, but none can match the present problems that would be locked in place by failure — mounting insurance premiums, soaring financial burdens on large and small employers, increasing deductibles and co-pay, caps on insurance coverage and coverage rejection because of previous medical problems, plus the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans.

Sens. Snowe and Collins have long decried these problems; a “no” vote on health care reform will bypass an attempt to begin to fix them. Although Republicans like to say that the current bill should be scrapped and the reform process begun anew, they know this won’t happen. So, because of intransigence and political posturing by both Democratic and Republican leadership, lawmakers have a choice between an imperfect bill or no reform at all.

The support of some Senate Republicans would put the bill back on a normal legislative path heading toward a bipartisan 60-vote majority, permitting lawmakers of both parties to take part in a Senate-House conference to shape a final bill.

It would avoid the controversial budgetary reconciliation route to which the Democrats have been driven by the solid Republican opposition. Budgetary reconciliation, requiring only a 51-vote simple majority for passage, is justified by its past use by both parties, notably by the Republicans’ passage of the Bush administration’s tax cuts. But Republican charges that the legislation would be “jammed through” in an unfamiliar and complex legislative is like to catch on with the public and raise further doubts and questions.

Sens. Snowe and Collins are moderate and flexible — far different from their party’s leaders, who demonstrate by their actions that their chief interest is depriving President Barack Obama of any success and handing him a crippling failure on the health care issue.

Maine’s senators, on the contrary, have studied the matter substantively, always seeking what is the best solution for the country and for their state. Sen. Snowe, while finally rejecting the Senate bill, declared reform to be imperative and promised to “continue my constructive efforts to forge effective, common sense health care reform as the process moves into a House-Senate conference.”

Sen. Collins, who also voted against the Senate bill, said, “My hope is that we can fix the flaws in the bill and come together with a truly bipartisan bill that could garner widespread support.”

Now is the time for our senators, in the spirit of Dirigo (“I lead”), to act on their own stated beliefs, accept something less than perfect and join in making it better, saving us all from the worst perils of the present system.

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