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Whither Bernie?

(Vermont blogger Odum writes for Green Mountain Daily — jh)

John Harry Reid and Barack Obama have their 60 votes to close debate on the Lieberman and Nelson driven, final form of the Senate Health Care “reform” bill. Despite Bernie Sanders’ ambiguous television announcement that he would not vote for the bill in the form it has taken, he, too was able to find his way to support it.

Perhaps this is why his earlier threat to withhold support made absolutely no waves outside the blogosphere:

Turn off MSNBC. Tune out Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann. The White House has its liberal wing in hand on health care, says White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“There are no liberals left to get” in the Senate, Emanuel said in an interview, shrugging off some noise from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) that a few liberals might bolt over the compromises made with conservative Democrats.

Although it was unclear at the time, it does seem his comments referred to cloture after all. Given how things turned out, though, it seems Rahm knew what he was talking about in dismissing them. The only official follow-up on the filibuster threat I could get from Sanders’ office at the time was:

The senator is working to improve the bill to make it something he can vote for. We have not seen the final package and he hopes it will be something he can support and he’s in frequent contact with the leadership and White House to make this a better bill.

It’s certainly nice that Bernie felt he was working with the White House. On the other hand, it doesn’t sound like Rahm Emanuel was too concerned about his working relationship with Bernie.

Sanders did extract a notable price for his acquiescence. Sure, it wasn’t quite the scale of what Ben Nelson got, but it was a guarantee of fairly robust support in the bill for Community Health Centers – a big priority for the Senator from the outset of the process. Also included was an additional $250 million in Medicare dollars from the federal government for Vermont over the next 6 years. Breaking out to roughly $42 million a year, that could translate to significant assistance in closing the anticipated $90-$110 million state budget hole anticipated for 2010.

And as usual, the greater progressive community offers Sanders nothing but praise. No one is troubled by the fact that he named his price, rather all are impressed that it’s such a good one.

But what was the real trade-off?

Now, one has to be a veteran of Vermont political conflicts of the 90’s (including the struggle between the Democrats and the Bernie-inspired Progressive Party) to fully appreciate the real irony of this whole business; that the other Vermonter, Howard Dean – who has become the most clear-spoken voice on the real dangers of this bill – has way out-progressived Bernie Sanders. Vermonters will appreciate just how much of a shocker that is, given the bad blood between the two last decade (with Sanders coming from the left and Dean from the right).

But despite Dean’s clear-spoken criticism of what the Senate health reform effort had become, Bernie decided it was good enough. At least for now. But there are two more votes to go – one for the bill’s passage (a certainty after the filibuster-clearing cloture vote), but another vote on the conference report (assuming there is a conference report, and that the Senate bill isn’t “ping-ponged” straight back to the House). Given the full support of the White House behind the Lieberman/Nelson bill, it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that the “we’ll fix it in conference” crowd is going to be disappointed.

Which means that there may yet be one more opportunity to stand in the way of this very scary bill.

Readers of this site hardly need another recitation of exactly what makes this bill worse than nothing. The lack of regulation, of cost control, an uninhibited insurance and pharmaceutical industry with a direct, legally-enforcable line to every American’s bank account; these are not theoretical concerns from high minded liberal elite, as the administration’s allies are trying to pass them off as. These are practical realities that will hit everyone and will hand control of our government right back to the Republicans in the quite understandable political backlash.

And the reality of the position of strength that progressive-minded elected officials should be working from is, of course, staring everyone in the face:

Would you favor or oppose creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies? (Wording of CNN poll)
ALL 59% 31% 10%
Men 54% 36% 10%
Women 64% 26% 10%
Democrats 88% 9% 3%
Republicans 24% 64% 12%
Independents 57% 29% 14%
Other 56% 31% 13%
White 54% 39% 7%
Black 77% 7% 16%
Latino 68% 13% 19%
Other 71% 12% 17%
18-29 72% 21% 7%
30-44 51% 37% 12%
45-59 67% 23% 10%
60+ 49% 42% 9%
Northeast 73% 17% 10%
South 45% 43% 12%
Midwest 62% 29% 9%
West 61% 31% 8%

Men prefer the public option, women prefer the public option, independents prefer the public option.

And look at Democrats. 88 freaking percent.

The public option is not a fringe position. It’s not even the “liberal” or “progressive” position.

It is the mainstream, Democratic Party position. It is practically a consensus.

Nelson, Lieberman, Landreau, Lincoln – it is they who are on the fringe. And they have been joined there by Reid and Obama (or were they always there?).

Who are the real Democrats here?

The numbers don’t lie. Senator Sanders, there is still another opportunity to show us all you’re at least as progressive as the Democrats…

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