As Jo Ann noted, a letter was sent yesterday by a group of centrist Senators - joined by Senator Ron Wyden - asking for more time to discuss health care reform. The letter is available in full at Huffington Post (pdf).
Senator Wyden's presence in this group of centrist Senators is fairly surprising. He's not typically aligned with Democrats like Ben Nelson (NE) and Mary Landrieu (LA); Republicans like Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME); and Joe Lieberman (CT), whatever he is these days.
Over at Daily Kos, in a post entitled, "What's with Wyden?", front-pager McJoan (Joan McCarter) notes that the Senators' letter explicitly commits to health reform this year -- which is more than Senator Nelson had previously agreed to.
Then, she goes on to get an explanation from Wyden's office. Here's the entire clip:
Majority Leader Reid and Chairmen Baucus have asked Ron to bridge the gap between progressives and the moderates to find enough votes for them to pass health reform this year. That is what he is attempting to do. Contrary to a popular fairy tale, there is no passing comprehensive health reform without 60 votes. Two of our Democrats have had lengthy absences due to health, and other Democrats have voiced serious concerns about the current leading bills in the House and the Senate. Ron is trying to make certain that their voices, critical to the success of health reform, are heard now so as to avert the failure of health reform later.
Far from advocating delay that would jeopardize passage of health reform this year, Ron specifically rejected any suggestion in the letter that the committee and the senate should wait until after the August recess. Ron trusts Chairman Baucus and Majority Leader Reid to be able to tell the difference between good faith progress with Republicans like Sen. Snowe and Sen. Collins, and DeMint-like obstruction. Ron aligns himself with President Obama's comments today and is fully prepared to work well into the August recess if that is what it takes to make progress on a bill that can pass the Senate. He is absolutely committed to the President's timetable of enacting health reform this year.
McJoan continues, explaining Wyden's current role in the process:
So Wyden's been tasked with trying to find a way around having to resort to reconciliation. Because his Healthy Americans Act, introduced in 2007, did provide a bridge to moderates and even Republicans, he's a good vehicle for that effort.
But there's another element to this in play for Wyden. He has introduced the "Free Choice Act," a bill that Ezra Klein says is the "idea that could save health-care reform" and that dday calls the healthcare "killer app." Is the bill that good? Yeah, it really does seem to be, adding an element that has been missing from the health insurance exchange--real choice.
That comment by dday (David Dayen) at Digby's Hullabaloo is an important one. He goes on:
But there is one legitimate reform that could lower costs for both individuals and the government, increase competition in the marketplace, and provide the best coverage at the best cost for everyone. That would be Ron Wyden's Free Choice Act, and it's what I think progressives ought to really push at this point.
Note that that's at Digby, the blog that Carla noted a week ago was pounding on Wyden for seeking bipartisan support for health reform.
As I wrote on Thursday, Wyden's latest effort - to give every single American the opportunity to choose the public option (or any of the private options) - is an important one. Not only does it give Americans more choice, which President Obama has explicitly argued for, but it will also create competition - which will drive down the cost of health care.
Beyond that, I think it's critical that the public option doesn't get a brand image as ghettoized health care for poor people -- which is a serious risk if the only people who can choose it are those who are presently unemployed or who have employers who don't provide health care.
If that happens, Republicans will be able to brand the public option as just another welfare program - and we'll fight over it for decades to come. If, instead, it's perceived as an option for middle-income and high-income Americans, then it'll be seen as American-as-apple-pie and as politically unassailable as Social Security.
For progressive critics of Wyden, the letter was dramatic proof of apostasy. For progressive supporters of Senator Wyden, this letter was an inexplicable surprise. To me, the ways of the U.S. Senate have always been fairly inscrutable, as hard to understand as Soviet-era Kremlinology -- and this is just another example.
For progressive supporters of Senator Wyden, the question is: Is this proof that his critics have been right all along? Or will we trust that - no matter the bizarre signals - Senator Wyden will continue to fight for his long-stated principles: Health reform that's universal, comprehensive, high-quality, affordable, portable, non-discriminatory, prevention-focused, and that brings down costs for families and public budgets.
Count me among the latter.