Ron Wyden vs. the Democrats
Yesterday, the Democratic Senate leadership sent out its daily talking points to its members' offices. Among them was the relatively anodyne argument that, "Under our [health-care reform] plan, if you like what you have you can keep it, but if you don’t there will be affordable choices for you that can’t be taken away."
The only problem with this talking point: It isn't true. Sen. Ron Wyden's communications director, Jennifer Hoelzer, has spent the past few months fighting for her boss's amendment that would make it true, and she blasted a quick fact-check to 490 addresses on the "reply all":
I just wanted to flag for colleagues that their bosses should be careful using the talking point that under the Dem bill, Americans who don’t like the coverage they have, will be able to choose something else.
As CBO Director Elmendorf indicated last week, under the current legislation, seven years after implementation, more than 90 percent of Americans will remain barred from shopping for insurance in the exchange. This means that not only will MOST Americans be stuck with the coverage they have – whether they like it or not – if reform establishes a public option, more than 90 percent of Americans won’t be able to choose it. As many of you know, this is why Senator Wyden has been fighting so hard to get his Free Choice proposal into the bill, so that we can tell our constituents that if you don’t like the coverage they have, they can choose something better. But right now, that’s not the case.
Let me know if you have any questions.
As you might expect, the Senate Democratic leadership was not too pleased with Hoelzer's decision to press "send." But this is further evidence of the increasingly interesting space that Wyden's office is carving out for itself. There are a lot offices on the Hill that annoy the leadership because they are insufficiently loyal to the party, or because they eagerly cultivate a reputation for centrism. But so long as that heterodoxy comes from a vulnerable senator, it's considered part of the cost of a doing business. A guy like Ben Nelson is protected because everyone agrees that if Nebraska weren't represented by a centrist Democrat, it would be represented by a conservative Republican, and that would make life harder overall. If he has to be seen as anti-liberal crusader to keep his seat, then so be it.
Wyden, however, is a liberal in a safe seat. And he's not even that liberal. By all rights, he shouldn't be causing anyone any headaches. But he's beginning to fashion a reputation for himself not as a crusader against liberal policies, but against bad policy compromises. That makes everyone's life more difficult, because the Senate pretty much runs on bad policy compromises, and the people making those compromises prefer it if they're not pointed out. Indeed, as the talking points show, they sometimes try and pretend those compromises were never made at all. But Wyden keeps pointing them out, and loudly. And as he develops a reputation for being an independent policy voice, he's becoming more popular with the media, which is further amplifying his criticisms. It's an important role for somebody to be playing, but I imagine Wyden is going to start getting yelled at a whole lot.
Photo credit: Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post.
October 20, 2009; 11:37 AM ET
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