The Massachusetts political tsunami is threatening to claim many political and legislative victims, but none so clearly as comprehensive heatlhcare reform.
In conversations with Democratic aides, all have appeared shell-shocked, unable to get their heads around what happened up in New England. You ask people with direct ties to healthcare negotiations, who have put their lives on hold to get a bill passed, and they have no idea how to move forward.
Democrats are clearly trying to figure out whether or not healthcare is really dead.
Listening to Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, Thursday, as he welcomed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's replacement, Republican Scott Brown, a virtual unknown, it was extremely significant to note that Kerry, a key member of the Finance Cmte who has spent hours upon hours trying to get massive reform thru Congress, thinks it is not only not likely, but the effort should probably be scaled back.
Kerry said, "I think a lot of people objected to the process of the...sort of last minute deals and the way the thing was put together. I understand that. It wasn't pretty. That doesn't mean that everything in the bill was bad," adding, "I would think Scott would not want people to be denied health insurance for a preexisting condition. I would think that he would not want somebody who's paid their premiums and bought insurance to be told when they get sick that they don't have insurance anymore. There have got to be some basic things here that we can all agree on, and I certainly look forward to trying to do that with him."
And it was even more significant that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, who was asked by his best friend Ted Kennedy to step in and take the reins on healthcare in his stead as he dealt with brain cancer, told the AP today that Congress should "maybe take a breather for a month, six weeks" and work on other issues.
As Kerry indicated, perhaps a bill could be scaled back. There is some support for that, but President Obama, in Ohio at a townhall meeting, slammed the door on that possibility.
"We can’t ban insurance companies from dropping customers with preexisting conditions unless we require everyone to get insurance. A lot of these insurance reforms are connected to other things we have to do. In other words – if you ban insurance companies from these profitable practices and don’t deliver them more customers, insurance premiums will skyrocket as they pass those costs onto customers."
So to his Democratic colleagues, still reeling from the loss of their filibuster-proof majority, Obama questioned, "Anyone who tries to tell you that we should 'just do the insurance reforms' - please ask them how they plan to address the automatic increase in premiums without sending a few million more customers to insurance companies."
One thing is very clear, if this Administration wants major heatlhcare reform, they are going to have to help develop and seriously push a strategy for doing so.