Incremental reform needed on health care

Like blind men analyzing an elephant, a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum seem to have discovered their own particular messages in Scott Brown’s surprise victory in the Massachusetts Senate race Tuesday.

For instance, the president of the Service Employees International Union said the defeat of a Democrat who embraced President Barack Obama’s push for a massive overhaul of our health care system proves only that voters want such an overhaul faster. “Now is the time for bold action” to move the Democratic agenda forward, said Andy Stern.

Several Democratic leaders in Congress talked of how they might pass the Senate health care bill without Brown’s vote, although Obama said Wednesday he doesn’t support that idea. He wants Brown involved in the health care debate.

Also, in a move that could aid Democrats’ election chances this November and reduce Americans’ growing anger with the hyper-partisan nature of Washington — a number of rank-and-file Democrats also seek a different approach than party leaders.

✔ Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said Tuesday it would “only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Brown is seated.”

✔ Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., a longtime advocate of reform, suggested it may be time for Democrats to focus on the economy and put health care reform on the back burner.

✔ And Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., argued for Congress to take an incremental approach to health care reform, instead of trying to cram everything into one massive, all-or-nothing bill that few people have read and whose consequences are hotly disputed.

We agree with Costa. While we find tantalizing but too risky the notion of blowing up the whole health care system, including all of its excesses and inefficiencies, an incremental approach is far more sensible and politically achievable at this point.

Health care reform is critical. We cannot wait until the current situation becomes untenable. Furthermore, many of the ideas in the House and Senate bills are worthwhile, especially the pilot programs that would test methods of containing costs.

That sort of reform can be pursued with individual legislation. But for it to be successful, Democrats must accept something less than the far-reaching overhaul of the health care system they originally sought. And Republicans will have to demonstrate they are something, not just against whatever Democrats propose.

Here’s our own brief analysis, not only of Tuesday’s election, but the last several national ballots: Voters are fed up with politicians of any stripe who put party politics and spending for a few favored constituents ahead of all else. Those who continue that approach, be they Republican or Democrat, are likely to get the boot.


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