Democratic Senators Backpedal On Universal Health Care (UPDATED)

Our guest blogger is Adam Jentleson, the Communications and Outreach Director for the Hyde Park Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The Hill had an article today in which Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) appear to go soft on universal health care. Rockefeller said, “We all know there is not enough money to do all this stuff,” while Schumer seconded: “Healthcare I feel strongly about, but I am not sure that we’re ready for a major national healthcare plan.”

Come on guys — let’s not give up so easily! The arguments are wrong on both facts and principle.

First of all, on cost: what we can’t afford is the health care system we have now. Universal health care is a necessary step for bringing skyrocketing costs under control. As Robert Rubin and Jason Furman write, “It is impossible to address fully the problems of affordability and effectiveness without covering everyone.”


Second, when it comes to costs, the elephant in the room is the Iraq war. The entire cost of enacting universal care — that is, of extending coverage to the 47 million Americans who don’t have it and lowering costs for everyone — amounts to one half of the cost of a single year of the Iraq war. We have the money — the question is, how do we choose to spend it?

Finally, to wax philosophical for a moment, it’s disheartening to see our leaders responding to a big challenge like achieving universal health care by lowering the bar well before the national conversation has started in earnest. No one doubts that enacting universal care will be a big challenge. But in the face of big challenges, we should expect bold leadership from our elected leaders — not hedging.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein reports that Rockefeller is actually saying the opposite of what was presented in The Hill. According to a Rockefeller spokesperson, the Senator believes that universal health care is so important that it must be taken “off budget” so we aren’t “tying our hands with budget rules.” Ezra explains, “Rockefeller isn’t saying we can’t pay, so we shouldn’t try. He’s saying, essentially, money shouldn’t be the object here.”

UPDATE II: A spokesman for Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) issued this statement:

Baucus’s perspective is that this year in Congress, though you can’t get much done legislatively, you can lay the groundwork to start a major discussion on reform in 2009. He’ll hold hearings, have a major summit [on comprehensive reform] in June, and host a great deal of discussion so members of Finance and Congress more generally can dig into both the problems and the possible solutions, leaving Finance ready to fully partner with any president. He wants Finance ready to fully engage on this.

UPDATE III: Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office has responded to our post:

Senator Schumer is highly supportive of providing health care coverage for as many of America’s 46 million uninsured as possible.

He has a long history of fighting for high-quality, affordable health care, particularly for affordable prescription drugs. Senator Schumer believes this is a top priority for the new administration, but understands the political challenges caused by Republican obstructionism in today’s Congress.