Health care reform: How Harry Reid could pull off a miracle

By giving ground on tort reform, Harry Reid could meet Republicans in the middle and pass meaningful health care reform for all Americans.

Public polls about healthcare reform show two things clearly: Most Americans want reform, but they don’t want what President Obama and Congress have prescribed. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is pushing hard to pass a bill before Christmas. To reach 60 votes, he’s tried – so far without success – to find a compromise between Democratic liberals and moderates.

Senator Reid is trying to placate all Democrats in the Senate because he has dim hopes of winning any Republican votes. In his past attempts to lobby Maine’s moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Reid has come up empty handed and suffered their rebuke.

Actually, there is one way Reid could win over Republican votes, pass meaningful health reform for all Americans – and still try to protect a Democratic majority in Congress.

To pull off that feat, he’d have to give ground on an issue that most Democrats treat like kryptonite: tort reform. Tort reform is crucial because, without it, out-of-control lawsuits and no federal caps on medical malpractice liability will keep driving up healthcare costs and forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine.

Fake compromise

Democrats won’t be eager to compromise on tort reform in part because they say they already made major concessions on abortion during the debate over the House version of healthcare reform. But a closer look shows this isn’t the case. In order for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to eke out victory on the floor, she succumbed to the Roman Catholic bishops and allowed a vote on the Stupak amendment, which keeps taxpayer money from being used to finance abortions. 

The Stupak amendment overwhelmingly passed with wide bipartisan support and gave the Democrats a 20-vote swing on the final bill. But the White House quickly sent out senior adviser David Axelrod to assure the party’s liberal base that the Stupak language would be stricken from the final version of the bill. 

So we see that Stupak wasn’t so much a compromise as a shrill ploy to get votes. Recently, the Senate voted down an amendment similar to Stupak’s by a 54 to 45 vote. The net result is a trillion-dollar, 2,000-page bill that does little to give the type of improvements that Americans want but adds more layers of federal bureaucracy and regulations.

Harry Reid’s desperation

In the past month, Reid has been working overtime to woo skeptical Democrats like Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Reid hasn’t gotten very far. At this point, it looks as if he won’t be able to pass anything but endless Senate amendments or some watered-down compromise proposal that neither Republicans nor Democrats support.

Reid’s desperation could prove to be the American people’s best opportunity to get the reform they want and deserve. If Reid decided to be a true legislative leader and meet the Republicans in the middle on one issue, he would pass a bill that perhaps could save the Democrats from losing control of Congress next year and the White House in 2012. If he fails, he will create a huge wedge issue against his own party come election time in 2010 and, possibly, even 2012. 

In order for the Democrats to break the current Republican filibuster, which seems stronger than the Iron Curtain, they must make a tremendous concession by offering real tort reform. While the trial lawyers are some of the most loyal supporters of the Democrat Party, their refusal to tame medical malpractice lawsuits adds $54 billion annually to the medical industry’s cost of operation.  

In his prime time address to Congress this September, President Obama reached out to Republicans by acknowledging that medical liability costs are a serious problem. 

Yet a month later, Reid said he didn’t see any substantive need to address tort reform. Were he to break away from his party’s chains to the trial lawyers’ association, the public mood might turn in favor of the current reform scheme. The Republicans would most likely be quick to accept compromises on their end, and the American people would get true healthcare reform. 

Sadly, Reid has so far preferred to be a partisan ideologue. He inserted in the language of the Senate bill $300 million in “aid” to Louisiana in order to secure Sen. Mary Landrieu’s vote. 

He also compared Republicans who oppose the current bill to those who didn’t want to abolish slavery and who opposed women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. Reid conveniently forgot that it was the Democrats who were the major opposition in all three cases. 

While we at the American Center for Law and Justice’s government affairs team lobbied hard for the Stupak-Pitts amendment to be added to the House bill, we also remain opposed to Ms. Pelosi’s bill in full. However, the American public deserves better than to have something as important as healthcare be used as an election-year political tool. The Republican leadership has agreed that the insurance industry needs some corrective measures, yet the Democrats have not offered any compromises on their end. 

The elusive middle ground

One of the most timely lyrics in music is from “Meet in the Middle,” a song by the country band Diamond Rio: “We’d gain a lot of ground ‘cause we’d both give a little and there ain’t no road too long when you meet in the middle.” All of us apply this principle in our daily lives whether it is in the workplace or at home. 

Republicans could be willing to meet in the middle. Is Harry Reid?

Jordan Sekulow is the cohost of the “Jay Sekulow Live!” radio broadcast, cohost of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) television broadcast, and ACLJ’s director of international operations.

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