03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ignore Lieberman to Win Real Health Care Reform

If I wanted Joe Lieberman to write health care reform, I would have voted for John McCain.

Somewhere in my mind, I thought that. But Jane Hamsher wrote it and that single phrase says it all. Due to the rules of the Senate and the political strategies of Rahm Emmanuel, Joe Lieberman is having the time of his life.

It is time to admit that if we play by Joe's rules, health reform is dead. When we are reduced to Evan Bayh (!) saying let's compromise so that the perfect is not the enemy of the good, it is way past time to try a different path.

The Trojan Horse at the center of the Senate's health care package is the mandate that people without health insurance be forced to purchase it from private health insurance companies or pay a fine. And the dirty secret of the package is that the price they will be paying is quite high -- like up to 10% of income. So the way that we move along the path towards greater coverage is that the taxpayers and poor and working class people pay more to the insurance companies. What part of this is the "good"?

I cannot imagine that the White House has done focus groups or polling among the surge voters of 2008 -- young people, poor people, single women -- to ask if they want to pay Aetna or Blue Cross or Wellpoint 10% of their income for lousy coverage. Ask your friends. Your recently graduated from college kids. I have -- the mandate is the wet dream of private insurers and will be stunningly unpopular with just about everybody else.

This is bad policy and bad politics. This is not progressive change. Costs will continue to skyrocket and the Federal treasury will suck wind. And surge voters will not come out to vote again.

But it does not have to be this way. It is only this way because in the world of the Senate, if we play by the 60 votes are needed rule, coupled with a weak White House that only threatens progressives, then the 60th Senator -- that is, the most unprincipled paid off Senator -- gets to write health care reform.

Let's not play that game. If Harry Reid and the White House don't have the integrity to kill the package as is, it only takes one progressive Senator to take Joe Lieberman's place. Surely there should be a rush to do this!

And what should take the place of Lieberman's rules? Reid already has the power -- contained in this year's budget resolution -- to enact much of the health care reform through budget reconciliation, which requires 51 votes. There are 51 votes for the best -- not the worst -- elements of great health reform. Or the Senate could change it's own rules to eliminate or alter the filibuster. Any reading of Senate history makes it clear that the filibuster has been used most often to defeat progress, not to stop special interests or reactionary initiatives.

And if Sen. Reid will not use reconciliation or change the filibuster rules, then at a minimum he should hold a series of individual votes on the critical issues currently bundled together in the massive reform bill. If he were to ask for my advice, I would start with a prohibition on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Let's put everybody on record whether they are in favor of the current practice of vicious discrimination.

Health care matters far too much to let rules designed to stop change block us. And it is cynical beyond measure to call Lieberman's demands real reform.