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You thought it was only Republicans who’d block a government-run health insurance alternative? Maybe not.

ASK THIS | July 13, 2009

Twenty-one Senate Democrats oppose or are undecided about a public option. Reporters should ask them why, and check out their ties to the health and insurance industries.

By Barry Sussman

Questions regarding Senate Democrats who are undecided or opposed to a "public option":

Q. Health industry firms have spent more than $3 billion in lobbying and donated $372 million in campaign contributions since 2000. How much have each of these Democrats received?

Q. Ask Senators who have received substantial amounts to explain why they accepted it, and why voters should trust them to be independent.

Q. Ask all 21 to explain why they are opposed to a public option and what, if anything, would persuade them to support it.

In the July 15th Washington Spectator newsletter, editor Lou Dubose notes that health industry leaders have drawn “a red line” or “a line in the sand” on any form of a government-run alternative to private insurance plans. So have Republicans on Capitol Hill, where predictions are that all forty Senate Republicans may vote against any plan that includes a public option.

Citizen support for a government-run plan is high—72 percent backed it in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll. So is support in the House of Representatives, with its large Democratic majority. Some Senate Democrats also are strongly in favor and say that without a public option, health care reform would be meaningless.

So why not just forget the Republicans and have Senate Democrats pass a reform bill that includes a public option on their own?

Well, there’s just a little problem with that idea, Spectator editor Dubose notes. He cites numbers provided by former Democratic party chairman Howard Dean’s advocacy group, Democracy for America, that is keeping a running count of Senate Democrats who are either undecided or opposed to the public option. There are 21 names now on the list, starting with majority leader Harry Reid. 

Some of the 21 will no doubt vote for a public option if one is included in a bill but there’s no guarantee that most will. Thus, even if only 51 votes are needed for Senate passage, reform with a public option could still fail.

These are the Democrats in addition to Reid who oppose a public option or are undecided: Max Baucus (MT), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Begich (AK), Michael Bennet (CO), Robert Byrd (WV), Maria Cantwell (WA), Thomas Carper (DE), Byron Dorgan (ND), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanch Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Mark Pryor (AR), Jon Tester (MT), Mark Udall (CO), Mark Warner (VA) and Ron Wyden (OR).

It may be that some of the 21 have taken an anti-government plan on principle, and that others who say they are undecided genuinely want to hear more before making up their minds. But recent news stories show close ties among political leaders and the health care and insurance industries. So it’s legitimate—necessary, even—for the press to look hard into these relationships.

The Billings, Montana, Gazette, for example, reported that Max Baucus, the Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee, got more than $1,500 a day from 2003 through 2008 from insurance and health care interests, for a total of $3.4 million—more than any other Washington legislator. Baucus is a key leader in writing health care reform.

An article in the Washington Post pointed out that almost 30 lawmakers helping draft legislation have nearly $11 million in personal investments that “could be dramatically reshaped” by the health care debate. They’ve got a stake that is, in firms whose future they will help decide.

And an Associated Press piece pointed out that insurers, drug firms and other health care interests have spent more than $3 billion in lobbying, along with $372 million in contributions, since 2000. About half the $372 million has gone to members of committees that handle health reform.

These articles are good Watchdog 101 reporting: They deal with an important issue and they move the story along. But some obvious follow-ups need to be done. No sane individual or group would create a system where those in charge are so in bed with special interests, or give that appearance.

Posted by mljohnston
08/15/2009, 04:21 PM

Max Baucus' only interest is political. He does not care about Americans. He prefers his money from Insurance -Drug companies rather than providing the best in health care for Americans. Yes I am talking about single payer . It is cost efficient , will save money, reportedly $350 billion a year and be the best for Americans. Unfortunately Barack Obama campaign message was principle but presides on politics and the does not deem what is best for Americans but what is best for politicians.

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