The Democrats killed the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett bill
In today’s Post, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) cites the defeat of his partner in the Wyden-Bennett health-care bill, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), in an appeal for greater bipartisanship in Washington. Wyden notes that their bill “had some pretty good ideas for health reform -- despite its rejection by significant Democratic and Republican leaders.” This contradicts the conclusion reached by William Galston and Thomas Mann in Sunday’s Post, who argue that the two parties are not equally to blame for the polarization in Washington and lay the blame for the defeat of Wyden-Bennett at the feet of the GOP: “The Post failed to note that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug on the Wyden-Bennett initiative well before reform was taken up last year.”
With all respect, McConnell is powerful, but he is the Senate minority leader. He has no power to “pull the plug” on a bill sponsored by a Democratic senator. If the Democratic leadership had wanted to move forward on Wyden-Bennett, they could have done so with or without McConnell’s approval.
Galston and Mann further write: “During the lengthy health debate, not one Senate Republican spoke in favor of the Wyden-Bennett bill.” Well, why would they? The Democratic majority never brought Wyden-Bennett to the floor for debate. Generally senators tend to discuss the merits of the bill that the Senate is actually considering.
If the Democrats were serious about bipartisanship, they would have made Wyden-Bennett the basis of the health reform effort.
It had a prominent Republican sponsor attached to it and a small number of Republican co-sponsors. Most Republicans would have voted against it, but at least the Democrats would have gained some GOP support and the veneer of bipartisanship. Instead, the Democrats chose to go with legislation that had zero Republican support and ram it through using obscure parliamentary maneuvers. It was this decision by the Democratic leadership -- not any action on the part of the GOP minority -- that polarized the health-care debate.
Galston and Mann decry the fact that Bennett’s “commendable work with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to develop a bipartisan health-care bill… was used against him by conservative Utah activists to deny him renomination.” Why would conservatives be happy with Wyden-Bennett? It contained an individual mandate and abortion coverage -- none of which conservatives in Utah, or elsewhere, consider “commendable.”
The fact is that when the Democrats push health-care legislation so radical that even Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) vote no, it should be clear that responsibility for the polarization in Washington hardly rests with the GOP.
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