Columns » John Brummett

Blanche Lincoln, a minority view

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Democrats, mad at her over health care, bemoan that Blanche Lincoln is no real Democrat. They lament that she is no worthy successor to Dale Bumpers.

Republicans and independent conservatives allege that she bears personal responsibility for this fatally flawed liberal health care bill because she caved and provided the vital 60th vote to allow it to be debated.

Only one person I know believes she played the health care debate about as effectively as possible. And that's the case only to the extent that I know myself.

Facing an imminent re-election campaign in a state where her party's president is woefully unpopular, she could not dare give away the Democratic base by opposing her party's signature issue. But nor could she survive her own constituency if she went along with some of the more liberal-minded notions, such as a public insurer and further explosions in spending that would threaten to exacerbate the already staggering federal deficit.

So this is what she can tell the Democratic base:

“You folks would have no health care reform bill if I hadn't cast that 60th vote to proceed to debate.

“You weren't to get a public option anyway, because Joe Lieberman was going to kill that.

“But what I did was sit down with nine other Democratic senators at Majority Leader Reid's behest and save this bill. We will have new nonprofit health plans that will be federally administered, but privately sold, and similar to what federal employees get — that was an expansion of my idea to provide group insurance for alliances of small businesses.

“A 58-year-old man, laid off, unable to get health insurance because his blood sugar level is in red numbers — I am proud to say that I played a significant role in making sure that he soon will get health insurance.

“A small businessman, struggling to make it on Main Street — I am proud to say that I played a significant role in making sure he and his employees will soon have more affordable options for health insurance.

“To those of you who say incremental reform is little or no reform, I would remind you that this is not the last health care debate we'll ever have. Incremental reform is the way of reform in America. In the beginning, Social Security was just for white men, you know. But FDR got it started, and that was the important thing.”

To Republicans and conservative independents, she can say:

“I saved you from Obamacare and exploding deficits. I and two or three other moderate Democrats took out that public option. We knew that, while we can make a reasonable estimate of what it will cost us to subsidize the purchase of private insurance for low- and middle-income taxpayers, and therefore manage our budget accordingly, we couldn't have had any real idea what the potential exposure to taxpayers could have been with the federal government paying out the benefits.

“Yes, I cast the 60th vote to move the bill to debate. I did that for two reasons. One is that you need protection against being denied health insurance if you have a pre-existing condition. The other is that I could only vote to give you that protection if I made the bill less reckless otherwise, which I could only do by moving it to the floor.”

Will Lincoln survive politically? I have an idea that she will. If she doesn't, it will be on account of something else entirely in this health care morass.

It's that seniors, a usually reliable Democratic constituency, are fearful that cuts in Medicare reimbursements to providers will reduce their care. The AARP, which endorsed this bill, has nearly a year to explain otherwise.

Meantime, Lincoln has nearly a year to remind us she's chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and that rural development falls under the federal Agriculture Department.

P. S. — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called late Monday afternoon to praise Lincoln's vital role in fashioning the eventual health care bill, especially in tending to the needs of small businesses.

Lincoln got a lot in the bill to help small business in every state, Reid said. He reminded me that this eventual bill is much like the one from the Senate Finance Committee on which Lincoln worked.

He credited her with bringing the Senate back to the Committee model.

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