Former DNC Chair Howard Dean, who has been a sharp critic of the compromises made to the Senate health care bill, said on Sunday that he was "disappointed" by the lack of fight from the White House -- specifically, the administration's abandonment of a public option.
"Well, obviously, we've been very disappointed by -- by that," he said. "We -- we don't think that there has been much fight in the White House for that. Another big piece that needs to be fixed is we -- I don't think we ought to be able to charge-- older people three times as much as you charge younger people. The House has twice as much, that's still too much. So, there's a lot of things that need to be fixed. But if they are fixed, you a -- may actually get the foundation of a bill coming out of the House. If most of the House provisions survive, then we could have a bill that we could work with. But this elimination of the public option is a real sticking point, because that, in fact, is how you really save money and bend the curve in -- expenses."
The former Vermont governor aired his discontent during a taping of "Meet the Press," in a segment that preceded a separate interview with White House Communications Director David Axelrod. Pressed by moderator David Gregory about the Senate's legislation, which now appears to have the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster, Dean once again made the case that the bill was so compromised as to not merit passage. He also insisted that there was no personal animus between he and Axelrod, who called progressive criticism of the reform process insane.
"This isn't personal. I like David Axelrod -- we've actually talked back and forth through the week, as I have with other people in the White House, as this has gone on," Dean said. "We're all in the same family. But this is a serious business. We have seen, essentially, a destructive political process in Washington, where the insurance company lobby essentially wrote a good piece of this bill. Now, I will admit that they have pulled back in this past week. There are some things in this bill that weren't in there a week ago that make it a better bill. But this can't be the final version of this bill. It simply sets us on a track in this country which is expensive and where we're going to have lots more political fights -- where a few senators who are beholden to the insurance industry can hold up the kind of real progress that we could have made, had we passed what the president suggested when he was running for president."
Axelrod, meanwhile, insisted that no major law in the nation's history was passed without compromise and that the current Senate legislation matches Obama's goals. He said Dean's critique "doesn't square up" with reality.
"Well first of all let me say that I respect Howard Dean," Axelrod said. "I think he's someone who cares passionately about this issue. He's a medical doctor. But he just wasn't familiar with some of the aspects of this legislation. He said for example that insurance companies could skim off unlimited amounts of money for bonuses and CEO pay and administrative costs. This strictly limits what they can do and consumers will get rebates if they exceed those limits and those limits are high and they're reasonable. He said that people would be forced to buy insurance at a price they couldn't afford. There's a hardship exemption in this legislation, no one would have to pay more than 8 percent, be forced to buy a policy for more than 8 percent of their income. And they get all kinds of assistance in terms of tax credit to do so. So I just think when you look at the bill in its totality, it doesn't square up with his critique."
Greg Sargent notes that both Dean and the Obama administration have ratcheted down their rhetoric from earlier this week, suggesting the White House is starting to think about winning over House liberals.