What Does Specter’s Switch Mean For Health Care Reform?

When it comes to health care reform, Sen. Arlen Specter may be one of the few (former) Republicans open to negotiation. A co-sponsor of the Wyden-Bennett health bill, Specter has been a strong proponent of reforming the health care system. He supports allowing the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate Medicare’s prescription drug prices, drug importation and SCHIP expansion.

Specter demanded that the stimulus bill include an additional $10.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health, and has recently proposed establishing a new agency to “award grants to help develop new treatments through biotechnology.”

So what does all of this mean for health care reform and the recent debate over reconciliation? Democrats now have 60 votes (assuming that Al Franken is seated) to pass health care reform and some pundits may argue that reconciliation is no longer necessary. But this view overestimates the unity of the Democratic party. Blue-dog moderates like Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) are unlikely to support the price tag of comprehensive health care reform ($1.3 trillion over 10 years) or legislation that undermines the monopoly of private insurers. For this reason, reconciliation forces Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats to compromise with the liberal majority, not the other way around.