Talk of Health Care Lost in Mania About Process

The various twists and turns of the health care reform debate have been, if nothing else, a remarkable educational opportunity for Americans. We have learned more about the concept of reconciliation than most of us ever wanted to know. We have been witness to attempts at procedural legerdemain fit to make David Copperfield blush and political gymnastics which would likely have sent Nadia Comaneci to the hospital with multiple pulled muscles. Musty Supreme Court decisions from the 19th century have been dusted off for a fresh stroll around the National Mall. And after all this, we still don’t seem to know how the story will end.

The truly remarkable aspect of this story, at least to me, is how the one thing nobody is talking about at this stage is health care. As pollsters continue to take the nation’s collective temperature, the one thing a solid majority of Americans seem to agree on is that something should be done about the cost and availability of health insurance. Exactly what that something should be, though, remains a mystery.

There are individual elements of the plans presented by both Republicans and Democrats which garner a good measure of public support. Everyone seems to like the idea of more competition among insurance companies, but we apparently can’t manage that. Reforming the out-of-control medical malpractice lawsuit industry looked like a sure fire winner until a few thousand trial lawyers demonstrated precisely where the real power in Washington resides. It seems like the only thing a consistent majority of voters could agree on was that they didn’t like the current bill crafted by Team Obama.

And yet, like the proverbial frog in the punchbowl, the Democrats have abandoned the idea of improving the product to make it more palatable and toyed with a dizzying array of plungers in an effort to jam it through the legislative pipes. In the old days, when we needed a new law, Congress was forced to come up with a bill which both chambers could agree on and convince the president to sign it. It seems like such a quaint idea today.

When the old-fashioned way of passing bills into law seemed ready to fall on its face, the Democrats floated the idea of bringing matters to a close through reconciliation. As the expected protests erupted, the Donkey Party pointed out that Republicans have used the same procedure several times in the past. This argument carried the virtue of being true, but ignored the fact that it was generally only done on matters of taxation and spending where both sides had agreed on the proposal in broad strokes but were bogged down on the percentages and pennies. Reconciliation is a valuable tool in that regard, since it pretty much assures that nobody gets exactly what they want.