In every major legislative battle, there are a few critical moments that decide the fate of that legislation. In health care reform, we have already seen two: the first when President Obama insisted that we do health care reform this year; the second when Senate Democrats had the guts to ignore Republican hysterics and decided they would move health care in a way that required a simple majority instead of 60 votes. The third big moment is upon us, and the fate of whether we can get real reform of the health care system accomplished will likely be decided over the next few days. The moment I am talking about is the debate of the so-called trigger mechanism for having a public option in health care insurance.
The insurance lobby has had multiple tactics for stopping the public option idea, which they despise because they know if regular folks have choice to go to a public option, insurance companies won't have the same ability to treat their customers like garbage when they get sick. The first tactic was just to try to kill the public option outright, and the good news is that they appear to have failed at that. This so-called trigger proposal is the second tactic: the idea is to write a "trigger" that will allow for a public option only under certain conditions, but write the legislation so that those conditions would never get met in the real world. It's a classic DC tactic, right up there with calling for a commission to study something. Olympia Snowe is carrying the insurance industry water on their trigger proposal, proposing triggers that would only get tripped in some fairyland none of us have ever visited.
The great thing for the insurance companies in a tactic like this is that it gives "centrist" Senators (centrist in Washington, DC usually means those who have taken massive amounts of campaign contributions from the affected industry) an excuse to help the insurance industry while looking like they are open to the public option that their constituents have been demanding.
Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have gotten some good things done so far, and are building real momentum in getting us moving in the right direction on health care. But if conservative Democrats force the adoption of the trigger, it will destroy Democratic unity and doom health care reform, because progressives will start attacking Democrats rather than insurance companies. We really are at a critical moment.
The only committee seriously considering the trigger turkey is the Senate Finance Committee, whose members average several hundred thousand a piece in insurance industry contributions. If you care about getting true health care reform, now is the time to make your voice heard: call the Senate Finance Committee members and tell them "NO to a trigger."
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