The swing voters in this battle are "moderate" Democrats such as Senator Max Baucus of Montana and Senator Maria Cantwell (WA). Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to significant reform, so the interesting battles are occurring within the Democratic Party and within the mass media, where both sides are trying to control the public debate.
Senator Max Baucus
As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus wields tremendous power over health care legislation. Yet he accepted almost $2 million from healthcare lobbyists. (See
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/22146 .) According to this article, Baucus "received more campaign money from health and insurance industry interests than any other member of Congress." His opposition to seating single-payer advocates at health care hearings is, by now, notorious.
Senator Maria Cantwell
Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell is another Senator coming under increasing criticism by Democrats upset with her wishy-washy support for progressive health care reform. As this editorial (What's Up with Maria Cantwell?) says, Cantwell has expressed doubts about whether there are enough votes to get a public option through the Senate; instead, she supports government-backed health-care-cooperatives. For many Democrats, her stance amounts to treason, since she needs to be positive about the public option, instead of throwing in the towel when the fight has barely begun.
The goal, after all, is to use the leverage of a large, nationally-based agency to standardize and simplify paper work and coverage, to reign in overheads and costs, and to provide fair, universal coverage. For most progressives, single-payer health care is the ultimate goal. (Indeed, some progressives regard support for anything short of single-payer to be betrayal.) For most conservatives, single payer is anathema, precisely because it's almost certainly cheaper and more effective! Conservatives fear that a strong public option is one step on the road towards single-payer and towards Democratic dominance at the polls. (See click here and Blocking Obama's Health Plan is Key to the GOP's Survival.)
In later interviews Cantwell has apparently "refined" her position and stated that she supports a public option. But it is still unclear what she means: does she consider health-care-cooperatives to be a public option?
The Washington State Democratic Party platform clearly expresses support for strong, universal health care. Efforts are now under way to apply polite but firm pressure upon Senator Cantwell to come out strongly for a strong public option. There is a petition, party activists are phoning Cantwell's offices, and there is talk of having Democratic State Party Chair Dwight Pelz contact the Senator, since lower-level party activists are reportedly having trouble reaching the Senator.
Criticizing fellow Democrats is never easy, but too many Democrats are DINOS (Democrats In Name Only). Senator Cantwell's stance on the Iraq War has also been unsatisfactory. As stated in this editorial from 2006, Iraq War: Cantwell's choice , "Cantwell has said she doesn't think her vote for the war was a mistake. A few months ago, she stunned the members of this newspaper's Editorial Board by talking of 'our successes in Iraq'."
But for now, health care reform is the top priority. Health care reform has been at or near the top of lists of priorities for Democrats, and what's needed is a pull-out-all-the-stops mobilization.
Backed by the formidable power of the drug, insurance, and medical industries, Republicans and conservative Democrats are fighting to retain a corrupt market-based health care system that is by far the most expensive in the world per capita and that leaves America with lower standards of care than many other nations. Slovenic health care anyone?
Universal health care nurse