At first, it might seem that Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah don’t have much in common ideologically.
Reid is the Senate majority leader, a moderate Democrat who supported the president’s all-private insurance national health plan with no public option. Bennett is a member of the Republican Senate leadership (as counsel to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) and is a classic and consistent conservative who opposed the president’s healthcare measure and even the Children’s Health Insurance Program — concerned about too much federal government spending and regulation.
But despite their significant political and policy differences, Reid and Bennett have important similarities.
They are senators from neighboring conservative Western states, Nevada and Utah.
Both are highly religious and spiritual men — both faithful Mormons.
Both are pro-life, strong opponents of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the life of the mother.
Importantly, both are civil and decent individuals, respectful of others who disagree with them. Both have demonstrated that it is possible to be both principled in the mainstream of their respective political parties but also bipartisan in trying to find solutions that benefit their states and the American people.
Utah Republican and conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch describes Reid as someone “we all respect . . . He is one of the moderate voices around here who tries to get things to work.”
Former Mississippi conservative Sen. Trent Lott, a Republican who once was Senate majority leader himself, agrees, “Harry Reid is out there finding a solution. I enjoy working with him.”
Bennett strongly opposed and voted against President Barack Obama’s national healthcare bill. Yet there are actually Republicans in Utah who have been misled into forgetting that fact and object to his co-sponsoring a national healthcare bill with a Democratic senator, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, of the Healthy Americans Act.
What these critics don’t seem to know is that this legislation would have entirely privatized the healthcare system and had the support of leading Republican Senate conservatives such as Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The Bennett-Wyden bill attracted such conservative support because it relied on the entirely conservative principle of allowing everyone with employer-provided insurance to take a non-taxable salary increase equal to the cost of the premium the employer had been paying, after which the employee would be able to use the extra cash to buy his or her own insurance in a competitive private marketplace, including the same less expensive insurance that every member of Congress and federal employee can buy.
The plan would have reduced healthcare costs by more than $1 trillion while being revenue-neutral in the first year of operation and producing positive revenues (thus reducing deficits) within 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Besides Reid’s and Bennett’s demonstrated record of bipartisanship, they have something else in common: Both are fathers and prolific grandfathers. They have, together, a total of 11 children (Bennett, six; Reid, five) and 36 grandchildren (Bennett, 20; Reid, 16).
I am willing to bet that each man can name the names of every grandchild.
Finally, Reid and Bennett have one unfortunate similarity: They both face vitriolic political opposition based on distortions of their records and personnel innuendo that seems all too common in today’s polarized political culture within both parties.
Reid has been wrongfully attacked by one of the leading Republican candidates, Sue Lowden, a former TV reporter, who has declared publicly that those who can’t afford basic healthcare can use “chickens” as barter for a physician’s services. As a state senator, she also voted against providing health insurance for women who take mammograms to detect breast cancer.
Bennett has been attacked recently by the far right in the Utah Republican Party. In a low-turnout primary, this great conservative Republican, who can win the general election easily and use his seniority to help Utah, actually may lose in the primary. And the only reason he would lose is the blatant distortion of his record by people who think that shouting and name-calling is an appropriate substitute for vigorous debate and sticking to the facts.
As Bennett recently told a newspaper: “Now, [some of these Republican political activists say] I’m not a true Republican because I don’t go on Fox and CNN and scream.”
I am betting that these two decent men — both of whom I disagree with on some issues because they are not liberal enough for me — will, when all is said and done, win re-election.
Because I believe that, in the final analysis, decency and integrity win — even today, when the haters and demonizers on the left and right make the most noise and sometimes get the highest ratings.
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