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Going Public

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So rarely do I find myself agreeing with anything Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has to say (actually, I don’t think it’s ever happened) that I feel compelled to recognize a gesture of his with which I feel in complete agreement.

Coburn likes to play the spoiler and I believe that was the impetus behind his introducing an amendment to the health care reform legislation now being debated in the Senate.  What his amendment said was that senators would have to be covered by any public option plan that ended up in the bill. 

As someone who is dead-set against any public option, Coburn surely meant this as a way of sticking it to his fellow senators (across the aisle, naturally) who are strongly in favor of a public option being included in the bill.

Senators are now covered, in the words of the New York Times, by “gold-plated coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.”  In other words, really good coverage that Coburn probably knows many of his fellow senators would be reluctant to give up.

So perhaps even he was surprised when some Democrats not only supported his amendment but volunteered to co-sponsor it.  One particularly enthusiastic backer of this amendment was, the Times noted, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. 

Brown was quoted as saying, “I think it’s important that we show we mean it, we believe in it, that it works for the public and we’re willing to put our own families on it.  This says we have to go on the public option.  I think they are right.”

If those senators who really believe a public option is necessary were to follow Brown’s lead and commit to being covered by the government-run plan, it could be a game-changer, particularly in the public mind. 

A lot of the resentment against members of Congress is that the laws and regulations they make for us to live by don’t seem to need to apply to them, at least in their estimation.  

So rarely do politicians put their money where their mouth is that we seem to have forgotten that it is still possible.  This amendment would take a nice big whack at the elitism that people feel Congress accords itself as a matter of course.

If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is truly committed to having a public option in the final bill, then he should start a very public campaign of rounding up the 60 votes to get the amendment passed.  He might not make it, but even if the effort failed, it would be a moral victory of sorts.  And goodness knows there have been few enough of those coming out of Capitol Hill lately.


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