Dr. Dean's prescription for health reform


As President Obama struggles to salvage health care reform after months of drift while Republicans tore apart his party's plans, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is clearly laying out what the Democrats should have focused on and what still might be possible on reform.

The former governor, sounding more polished on stage than during his unsuccessful presidential run in 2004, deftly nailed point after point in the ongoing health care debate when he spoke before Windham County Democrats a week ago. A video of that speech can be found on the Web site of our sister paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, and watching it is guaranteed to provide disheartened reform supporters a shot of adrenaline.

Dr. Dean's most telling observation was that Democrats typically see the glass as one quarter full even when it is, in reality, three quarters full, and a little more resolve and push might prove decisive. Hearing complaints from some party members about the Democrats' stumbling efforts toward meaningful reform, he asserted that the party should not beat itself up too much. The problem, he said, is primarily the politicized opposition of Republicans and four conservative Democratic caucus senators who have blocked true reform.

In fact, he said, 56 senators seemed willing to back a public option in reform, which is the element he rightly insists is vital, and one the Obama administration made the mistake of not pushing harder. "The people can't allow reform to be held hostage to the Joe Liebermans of the world," Dr. Dean declared, referring to the Connecticut senator who did the most to block a public option in the Senate bill.

Stressing the importance of a public option, Dr. Dean notes that Medicare covers about 50 million Americans, Medicaid millions more, and Veterans Administration health care -- insuring about 25 million -- was ranked the best plan in the nation over all public and private insurance programs.

Dr. Dean also forcefully makes the point that the lack of firm direction by the administration allowed Congress to create a pork-laden, Christmas tree bill that angered voters across the political spectrum and may have led to Republican Scott Brown's upset Senate victory in Massachusetts. The lack of a public option, he said, also likely means voters will not realize any great benefit from reform that might induce them to vote for Democrats.

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Favoring a simple expansion of Medicare to cover more Americans, rather than "re-inventing the wheel," Dr. Dean added that the current bills before Congress also delay the reform for years. During that time, he said, Republicans will continue to tee off on the ideas and distort the legislation's effects, and the public will not have any firm evidence one way or the other.

If a public option were offered immediately, he said, millions of Americans would feel more secure in a severe and lingering recession, and they might reward the Democrats come election time. He added that he'd welcome a Republican challenge to a public option once the voters saw its value in not only providing insurance security, but in helping to control the soaring cost of health care.

Addressing President Obama's failed efforts toward a bipartisan reform plan, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, who oversaw the party's comeback from the political wilderness, said, "I think people would rather see a strong health reform bill than bipartisanship."

Paraphrasing Lyndon Johnson, he said that sometimes "you have to break a few eggs to make a good omelet." Democrats, he said, should get tough now and push to enact a bill they believe in, not a muddled compromise, and if they are right the voters will reward them. The best "cure for lies" about the reform plans "is to just do it, just show them," he said.

This focused speech showed how Dr. Dean has evolved as a speaker and an advocate for reform since his presidential run six years ago.

It also makes us wish he were now into his second term as president. The country might be in much better shape.


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