Democrats Are Listening to the American People

On Thursday, I sat down with President Obama and my congressional colleagues from both parties to try to find a way out of the health care crisis threatening our families and businesses. It was a time to face facts none of us can deny: that insurance premiums more than doubled last decade, with no sign of stopping; that most of our smallest businesses can't afford to cover their employees anymore; that America pays more per person for health care than any other industrialized country in the world, without seeing better health.

Those are some of the reasons Democrats have worked so hard to pass a centrist health reform bill, many of whose provisions are similar to those endorsed by former Republican Senate leaders Bob Dole and Howard Baker. At today's summit, we also discussed the numerous bipartisan areas of agreement that already exist and are already in the health care bill. I believe in bipartisan compromise, but Senate Minority Leader John Boehner's recent AOL News op-ed piece was more about political talking points than common solutions. It deserves a line-by-line rebuttal.

"Americans want Washington to scrap this job-killing government takeover of health care and start over."

It's really the rising cost of health care that's killing jobs. A study from economists at USC and Harvard shows that passing health insurance reform would create 4 million more jobs over the next decade.

And no matter how many times Republicans call health insurance reform a "government takeover," in fact, the Democratic plan facilitates a transparent market for private-sector insurance and does not take away the coverage of any American who likes his or her plan.

Do Americans want Congress to "start over" and "scrap" the bill? A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week shows that 58 percent of Americans would be "disappointed" or "angry" if Congress gave up work on health care -- which, as Leader Boehner knows, would surely be the result if we stopped now. When the American people hear in unbiased terms what's actually in the bill, they support it. For instance, two of its most important provisions -- stopping insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions and creating a competitive private marketplace where individuals can buy insurance at lower rates -- receive strong support in poll after poll.

"The bill that is set to be rammed through Congress will cause [Americans'] premiums to go up."

It's doing nothing that causes premiums to go up, as evidenced by the recent announcement from a California insurance company that premiums for their beneficiaries will increase by as much as 39 percent. The president has proposed an independent board that will review rate increases and empower states to stop just these sorts of abusive rate hikes. And that is in addition to the policies already in the Democratic plan, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found will slow the growth of premiums, with the large majority of Americans seeing either no change at all or a reduction in their costs.

"Republicans have offered a commonsense plan squarely focused on lowering costs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed that it will lower premiums by as much as 10 percent."

The CBO also confirmed that it will do next to nothing to cover the uninsured, whose ranks are growing every day as costs rise for middle-class families. According to the CBO, the Republican plan will cover only 3 million more people by 2020 -- out of 52 million Americans who will lack insurance. And paying for the care of those uninsured Americans adds an extra $1,100 to the average family premium.

The latest Democratic plan "snuffed out any chance that this summit could serve as the starting point for a bipartisan consensus."

There are actually a number of bipartisan ideas in the health care bill. No less than 12 major ideas proposed by Republicans -- from letting customers buy insurance across state lines to fighting Medicare fraud to letting young adults stay on their parents' insurance longer -- are already in the bill. And if the president hadn't put forward a compromise proposal, Republicans certainly would have complained about that, too.

"Democrats are instead hoping that [the health care summit] can be the gateway to a final push that involves circumventing the will of the people and jamming a bill through using parliamentary tricks."

"Reconciliation," the process that gives measures like health care an up-or-down majority vote in the Senate, has been used repeatedly, by both parties, for decades. "The way in which virtually all of health reform ... has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process," says Sara Rosenbaum, chair of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University. Republicans even used reconciliation to pass trillions of dollars of debt-financed tax cuts under President Bush. They weren't calling it a "parliamentary trick" then. Of the 22 times reconciliation has been used over the past 30 years, Republicans have used it 16 times; that's 72 percent of the time.

"Excluded from today's summit is Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., co-author of a House-passed amendment barring federal funding of abortion."

Rep. Stupak actually said that he didn't want to attend. At any rate, U.S. law already bars federal funding of abortion, and the president's health care proposal would do the same.

The health care bill "spends money we don't have."

Actually, it doesn't add a dime to the deficit over the next 10 years. And by slowing the growth of health care costs, it takes on the single largest factor driving our country into debt. The bill contains costs by eliminating Medicare waste, fraud and abuse; supporting doctors who coordinate on care; helping hospitals store information electronically; and streamlining administrative forms.

For all of the political slogans in Leader Boehner's op-ed, I didn't read a single factual description of what's actually in the health bill. There's a reason for that: When Americans hear "government takeover of health care," they naturally oppose it. When they hear the bill described in plain language, they support it.

Thursday's summit was all about talking about our substantive policy differences face to face and working toward a common solution. That is certainly what Americans want us to do.