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Healthcare reform: commitment or hubris?

January 20, 2010 |  3:58 pm

Reid-somber closeup

How should backers of Obamacare proceed, now that Republicans have won a filibuster-sustaining 41st seat in the Senate? Opponents argue that the Massachusetts election reflected public sentiment against the bill; Democrats, they say, should accept the will of the people and move on. But if you don't buy the (often hyperbolic) criticisms of the bill -- that it's a government takeover, an unconstitutional usurpation of state power, a ruinously expensive new entitlement and an attack on Medicare --why stop trying to fix the healthcare system?

I argued in my last post that any effort to rein in costs would require the same framework as the bills passed by the House and Senate. Although the details may differ, the main elements are the same -- assuming, of course, that a single-payer system is off the table. If that's the case, then the main task facing supporters of the bill is to shore up the weak spots -- particularly in the efforts to eliminate skewed incentives and reduce the demand for healthcare -- and weed out the special deals that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) struck to get the bill through the Senate. But Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts means it will be much more difficult to get a better bill through the Senate than it was to pass the previous version.

For its part, the Times editorial board urged Democrats to keep improving the bill to make its benefits more tangible to voters. And if they can't find any Republicans willing to support that effort, they should do what it takes to pass the measure without them. Is that hubris, or merely a recognition that any proposal to fundamentally alter the status quo will generate a lot of anxiety among voters?

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Photo: Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), bowed but unbloodied. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

-- Jon Healey

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