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Howard Dean: We Will Reform Health Care—with or without the Republicans

The progressive side has made some great strides in health care reform, and with Howard Dean‘s help we’ll make it across the finish line with a good bill—one that includes a strong public option.

In this interview with Gothamist, Dean spells out something that is glaringly obvious to the American people, but which seems to be escaping the notice of many top Democrats: Republicans are not interested in reforming health care. They’re not interested in improving the Senate bill currently in markup. All they want is to kill reform so they can capitalize politically on a Democratic defeat. They don’t care about millions of uninsured Americans. They want to hand President Obama a defeat and they don’t care how many sick folks have to die to get there.

…Your new book is Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Health Care Reform. First of all is this prescription your own or is this more or less identical with legislation currently in Congress? Well, it’s similar. It’s based partly on the plan that I put forth in 2004, and very much based on Obama’s plan that he had during the campaign. His plan was really an excellent plan, and I go into that in great detail in the book. The book is a lot of fun. First of all, it’s plain English. Second of all, it’s co-written by two people from the Center for American Progress who know a huge number of details about health care and could fact-check it all. And third of all, it’s a great resource book at 133 pages, where it doesn’t just tell you about what’s going on here, it tells you how other countries’ health care systems work, and how to contact your congresspeople to get them to do what you want.

Are there any things which you think your book asks for that don’t seem to be on the table right now in Washington? Well one thing that’s not on the table which I clearly admit is that I think we ought to pay for it using a carbon tax. It’s much simpler. And as you know it’s still not impossible. They’re getting all twisted up now around how to pay for the thing. A carbon tax is much easier. I think cap-and-trade is in trouble in the Senate and a carbon tax would have the same effect as cap-and-trade, and would also be able to draw off a lot of revenues for health care.

Do you think that Obama is the kind of person who would tackle two giant things at once? Health care reform and climate change? He already has, the climate change bill has already gone through the House with cap-and-trade, and he has made it very clear that that’s up next.

Right, but not with a carbon tax? Yes, but I’m not going to get into a critique of everything the administration doesn’t do: except health care reform without a public option. You know without a public option it’s really a waste of money.

Why would it be waste of money? Because we’re basically putting $60 billion dollars a year into the system we already have which got us to where we are today.

And it would require people to have health insurance, but that would allow companies to charge as much as they wanted because they would have a captive audience? Yeah, exactly. I mean, if they don’t pass that with a public option, it’s an extremely foolish bill. Massachusetts is proof. Massachusetts has got something called universal access, which is wonderful. There are no cost controls of any kind.

And what have been the results there? Great coverage and the most expensive rates in the country.

Democrats have the necessary numerical majorities. What or who would stop a straight party-line vote to make this happen? Well as you know there are a lot of people in our party, well not a lot, some people in our party who are very much beholden to the health insurance industry, and that’s obviously a problem.

Are there someone whose arms you’re twisting? I know on your website Mary Landrieu comes in for some pressure. That’s not my website. That’s the Democracy for America website, I’m just a consultant to them. I generally have not gone after other Democrats. Which isn’t to say that I won’t. We’ll have to see how they all vote. Right now I’m giving everybody the benefit of the doubt and hoping that they’re going to do the right thing in the end.

Well that’s very sweet of you. You know, though, you have a pugnacious reputation. Yes, I do. It’s well-earned, I might add.

Do you think it will come down to a straight party line vote? Yes. I don’t believe we’ll get any Republican votes. Possibly one. But let me just say, a vast majority of Americans—and Democrats—want a public option. I believe that since the Democrats are going to write the bill and Republicans have signed out and just decided not to do anything about it, and since a majority of the majority party wants a public option, we’re going to have a public option. I can’t tell you what form it will have, but I have my ideas, which I’m not going to share with you.

Obama has certainly used the language of a “unifying approach,” being conciliatory, working with both parties, and yet that doesn’t seem to have resulted in any cooperation from the other side. Why do you think that is? Because I think they’ve made the calculation they made in 1994, that “if we can take this bill down we can take down Obama’s presidency.” That’s what their goal is. They don’t give a damn about health insurance. Frankly, they don’t give that much of a damn about their country. Their party has come first for the last eight years.

Do you think that Obama should start changing his approach? And try a more aggressive one? I think he already is.

The conciliatory approach just can’t work with Washington currently? Right, and I think that Washington is always way behind where the American people are. I think the American people really would like bipartisanship and I think the President has done the right thing by trying to get it. But it clearly isn’t going to happen, and we have to have a bill—for the sake of the country.

One of the points of your book is that health care reform is beneficial and maybe even necessary for American business to stay competitive. Why is it that no pro-business Republicans seem to agree with that? Republicans are trying to kill the bill. They’re not interested in the merits of the bill for discussion. If they were, it would be a better bill, but they’re not. They’re interested in killing the bill so they can kill the bill. It’s all political on the Republican side. There’s no substance on the Republican side. It’s just politics. As was obvious with the summer recess, the people negotiating with Baucus just kept backing away, that’s what they’re doing these days, the Republicans can’t take yes for an answer.

Do you think that there are no Republicans in the senate who will cooperate at all? I think there’s one possibly, Olympia Snowe.

If you were in charge of passing this health care legislation, is there anything you would do differently from what Obama has done so far? No, I think he’s done a great job so far. He’s tried to be bipartisan; that’s what the American people want, and now he’s just got to deliver a really good bill.

Read the whole article here.


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