Dean: America can't wait

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We're in the final stretch in our campaign for health care reform including a public option.

The good news is we're winning.

I know that sometimes it is hard to tell. After all August was a brutal month filled with right-wing fear-mongering and misinformation. Whether led by Glenn Beck, FOX News or Rep. Joe Wilson, too many Americans were told to disrupt town halls rather than participate in them. And of course the media covered every moment of it.

But the real story of August is that these scare tactics didn't work. Support for President Obama's health care reform plan, which includes the choice of a public health insurance option, has increased since the beginning of August.

This is a testament to the fact that you never gave up. All summer we worked together to make sure Congress got the message that inclusion of a public option in any health care reform bill passed this year is non-negotiable. And every time Republicans tried to kill it or the insurance industry claimed it's already dead, you stood up and proved them wrong.

Now what we keep hearing is that Congress doesn't have the votes to pass a public option.

Once again, thanks to your help, we have proven them wrong.

We've asked everyone in Congress where they stand. At least 218 House and 51 Senate Democrats have said they would vote for the final health care bill if it included the choice of a public option rather than vote against the bill and kill reform. That's means Congress has the majority votes needed to pass a public option -- today. ...

Now is the season for action. The majority of Americans want it. Majority votes in Congress will pass it. Join President Obama in calling on Congress to get the job done this year.

As I said in my message to the members of Democracy for America, it's a myth that it takes 60 votes to pass any bill in the U.S. Senate.

It's a myth because while any senator can attempt to block most Senate bills with a procedural tactic called the filibuster, there are exceptions. Senate rules don't allow filibusters of certain bills that affect the budget. That's means the health care reform plan, including the choice of a public option, can be passed in a budget bill by a majority vote in the U.S. Senate.

Don't take my word for it. Numerous budget scholars and experts on Senate procedure have staked their reputations on it. Stan Collender, a contributing editor at the National Journal, contributing writer for Roll Call and author of "The Guide to the Federal Budget," is an expert on the subject. Here's how he's explains it:

"Reconciliation, which was part of the Congressional Budget Act when it was adopted in 1974, wasn't used until the start of the Reagan administration. Although it hasn't been used every year since then, reconciliation has become such a regular part of the budget process that it's now generally considered a staple. It has been used by Republican- and Democratic-controlled Congresses alike for both spending and revenue.

"The most important and obviously controversial part is that reconciliation bills can't be filibustered because the debate is limited by law.

"The House-passed version of the 2010 budget resolution allows health care reform to be included in a reconciliation bill and, therefore, adopted in the Senate with 51 votes. ...

"First, contrary to what some have been saying, reconciliation has become such a standard part of the budget process that using it for health care would be neither surprising nor precedent-setting. When they were in the majority, Republicans insisted that reconciliation was allowed by Senate rules and used it in 2001, 2003 and 2005. Back then, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has been one of the biggest opponents of using reconciliation this year, made what in retrospect is an almost infamous floor speech about the appropriateness and legality of using reconciliation.

"Second, health care reform will have a substantial impact on federal finances and so can't be said to be unrelated to the budget, which is one of the critical criteria for using reconciliation. In fact, given that at least two of the largest mandatory federal spending programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- are health care programs, health care reform and reconciliation would seem to be a perfect fit."

Over 25 times in history the Senate has passed major reforms this way, including the Bush tax cuts and funding for the Iraq war. Whether the Senate passes reform through a budget bill or in a different bill that has overcome a filibuster, the truth of the matter is it only takes a majority vote to get the job done.

Howard Dean, a medical doctor, is a former governor of Vermont, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and founder of Democracy for America. This is from a Democracy for America blog Dean wrote last month.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: