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Gang Of Six

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We’re hearing an awful lot about the so-called Gang of Six, those six senators on the Senate Finance Committee who are negotiating among themselves what is likely to be the template for health care reform for the rest of us.

There’s the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., of course.  Everywhere you turn it’s Baucus this, Baucus that.   Then there’s Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican member of the committee. 

The other committee members are Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me.; Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; and last but not least, Sen. Jeff  Bingaman, D-N.M.

I had to do some research to find out who the sixth senator was in this gang since one never hears Bingaman’s name mentioned.  Then I remembered these are secret negotiations.

In any case, in looking over this list of negotiators who hold the fate of one-sixth of the economy in their hands, the oddity of politics in America in 2009 became crystal-clear to me. 

I knew that the states these senators represent are small population-wise, but I did not realize how small they are.   

The largest of the six, Iowa, ranks #30 of the 50 states, according to the 2008 estimate of state populations, with 3,002,555 residents.

Here are the rankings of the other 5 states whose senators comprise the Gang of Six:

#36-New Mexico with 1,984,356

#40-Maine with 1,316,456

#44-Montana with 967,440

#48-North Dakota with 641,481

#50-Wyoming with 522,830

All six of these states are smaller than the largest U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, whose population was 3,954,037, which would have ranked it #27.

The combined population of these six states is less than the population of the state I live in, New Jersey.

None of these states comes close to matching the populations of New York City or Los Angeles.

Wyoming, in fact, is smaller in terms of population than the 32 largest American cities.

I have nothing against smallness per se.  We all learned some time ago that “Small is Beautiful.”

What does stick in my craw is that none of these states is truly representative of the predominately urban nation we have become. And yet they are the ones determining health care for California, New York and the 27 other states that have more people than Iowa.

Does this matter?  I think it matters a great deal since health care delivery in Wyoming or North Dakota confronts a very different situation than does health care delivery in Massachusetts or Michigan, Chicago or Philadelphia.  And how would Sen. Enzi or Sen. Conrad know?

That there is no urban representation within this group of six senators makes me think that whatever the outcome of their negotiations is, it is going to be unduly skewed to the needs and peculiarities of their fewer than 8.5 million combined residents.

It’s probably idle thinking at this point to hope that this prescription can be rewritten. But it’s definitely not what the doctor ordered.


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