Congress is on the cusp of passing sweeping progressive changes to the issue Ted Kennedy championed for nearly 50 years. The loss of his voice from the health care debate has been a cruel, sad irony. In its place we've been left to digest soundbites from Chuck Grassley ("pull the plug on grandma"), Mike Huckabee (under Obama's plan Kennedy would have been told to "go home to take pain pills and die") and ... Harry Reid. Should the Senate Majority Leader really be lumped in with a group of health care illiterate, Machiavellian Hillbillies? Sadly, yes. With Kennedy unable to champion the progressive argument for health care reform there's a void left that one might suppose an acknowledged leader would fill. That hasn't happened. Instead, Reid, a weak and ineffectual senator with an approval rating hovering around 30 percent in his home state, has been forced by local politics to sit out the most important political debate of Obama's young presidency. Finally, yesterday, Reid spoke up -- only to make it clear he intends to spend no political capital in arguing for stronger reforms:
This is insultingly stupid. The public option, by definition, would be a government run program. Instead, Reid is signaling support for a co-op, which nobody seems to know how would be run. Reid owes his perch in the senate largely to club rules: leadership is earned through tenure. Ideology matters little. So progressives are left with the health care debate being defined in the senate by an impotent leader and a Finance Committee chairman bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. Four health care bills have been passed that have a public option. The fifth is being anchored down by Reid and Max Baucus. A couple weeks ago, Digby said this while wondering if losing some seats in the House was a political price worth paying to pass health care reform:
During a tele-townhall with constituents today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supports a public option...but then he added an extremely important caveat. Reid said he doesn't think the public option ought to be a government run program like Medicare, but instead favors a "private entity that has direction from the federal government so people that don't fall within the parameters of being able to get insurance from their employers, they would have a place to go. "
Perhaps we should add another question: What good is a 60-40 senate majority when the leader is unable to lead?
To hell with Rahm and his appease the Blue Dogs at all costs strategy. What good is it if the president fails in 2012?