Sen. Bennet and the public option

Here’s a question for Colorado voters as Sen. Michael Bennet sounds off like it’s February 2009, not 2010:

Is the Democrat appointed to the U.S. Senate last year standing on principle when it comes to health care reform or is he playing to the political left as he faces a tough Democratic primary challenge?

We’re not sure. But we do know Bennet’s latest pronouncement — a position taken with three other Democratic senators — seems to ignore a few political realities of the past nine months or so.

✔ Tea parties and town hall meetings to protest government spending and health care reform? Bennet says, No big deal.

✔ Dwindling public support for the health care bills drafted by Congress — down to 38 percent support according to a Pew Research Center survey this month? Bennet: What of it?

✔ Repeated Democratic electoral losses due in part to public angst over the liberal agenda and anger about extreme partisanship in Congress? Apparently it doesn’t mean anything to Bennet.

✔ Increasing numbers of Democrats choosing not to seek re-election, including centrist Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who said liberals had become “tone deaf” and were “overreaching” in pushing their agenda? Forget that. Push it through, Bennet argues.

Bennet and his three colleagues say that President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress should ignore those folks who oppose a government-run public option for health insurance and ram through health care legislation that includes the public option.

That goes beyond what even the president and Democratic leaders are currently contemplating. They are considering using a process known as “reconciliation” to bypass a possible GOP filibuster and win approval of the Senate health care bill that does not include a public option.

But it’s far from certain Democrats can even make that happen, as anxious members in Congress look at recent election results and diminishing public support for reform proposals. Even when they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the public option was dropped because many Democrats were wary of it and what it might do to private insurance.

It should be noted that Bennet already has said he would support a public option, even if meant he didn’t win election this year. Given the fact that a recent poll in Colorado showed Bennet trailing two Republican candidates who aren’t exactly household names, it’s not inconceivable that could happen.

And, as with all political pronouncements, there’s no doubt a bit of political grandstanding in Bennet’s statement. There’s very little chance the public option will be resurrected in the current discussion, and Bennet surely knows that.

We still believe Congress should push for some health care reform, especially pilot programs that can test various aspects of reform and discard or revamp ideas that don’t work. But it makes more sense now to tackle reform incrementally, rather than as one monster bill, especially one that includes the public option.

Bennet disagrees, and we appreciate the fact he’s willing to express his views on key policy issues such as health care, apparently unaffected by public sentiment. Voters will have the chance to say whether they accept those views through their election ballots.


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