Former Democratic leader Howard Dean dealt a blow to Senate Democrats today when Greg Sargent at The Plum Line reported that Mr. Dean called for the Senate health care bill to be killed. The interview was conducted on Vermont Public Radio with host Bob Kinzel.
"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate," said Dean. "And, honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."
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Dean defended using this alternative budget approach for a policy bill. He argues it's been used more than 20 times by recent presidents.
"The American people don't care how we get this, as long as we get a decent process," said Dean. "The Republicans in the Senate will moan and groan, but they're out of touch with where America really is. You have the vast majority of Americans want the choices, they want real choices. They don't have them in this bill. This is not health care reform and it's not close to health care reform."
Dean says there are a number of good elements in the current Senate bill, like more money for community health centers, which should now be passed on their own:
"There are some good things in this bill, but they're small, and let's have a small bill for this $32 billion," said Dean. "Doesn't sound like a small amount, but compared to a trillion dollars - 27 percent of which is going to go to the insurance companies' pockets, it's a small price to pay to help community health care centers and prevention and wellness programs."
In recent months, Dean has emerged as a leading liberal advocate for health care reform and his comments to kill the current bill could encourage some progressive members of the Senate to rethink their support for the legislation.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D - Calif., was taken aback by Mr. Dean's comments and responded to the idea of killing the health care bill this evening to the Washington Times.:
"Well I think that would be a tragedy. This is our one chance, and if we miss it, it’s gone and you can always do technical corrections and additions later, but there is so much in this bill that is good for people. To ignore the opportunity to pass it, to me, is just catastrophic. It won’t come up again for a long time."
Senator James Inhofe, R - OK, noted that the former Vermont governor's idea for reconciliation would be a real problem for Democrats.:
"Everyone now is more aware of what reconciliation is now than what it used to be. It’s an admission that this can’t happen."
By using the process of reconciliation, Democrats can break a GOP filibuster by passing a bill with just 51 votes. Using this process, there could be enough Democrats who support a public option. However, reconciliation can only be used for bills dealing with budgetary issues, so other reforms and regulations would have to pass as well.
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D - NV, has yet to reach a sixty vote threshold for support on the health care bill to break a filibuster on the Senate floor.