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Harry Reid Hiding the Sausage on Healthcare Reform

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Otto von Bismarck is popularly (though probably wrongly) credited with saying that "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." The healthcare reform "compromise" announced last night by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is just such a sausage -- and Reid is resorting to duplicity to keep people from looking too closely at its contents.

As Firedoglake's Jon Walker has pointed out, the details of the Reid/Gang of 10 "compromise" may not even be determined yet, instead being contingent on the CBO score. But whether it's a deal or just the outline of a deal, what is clear is that Reid is being less than honest about its contours.

When reports first broke last night that Reid was abandoning the public option, Reid's office insisted that the public option is still alive and well, saying in a rapidly-issued statement:

"It is a consensus that includes a public option and will help ensure the American people win in two ways: one, insurance companies will face more competition, and two, the American people will have more choices.

But when TPM obtained the deal's main points from a knowledgeable staffer, it became clear that the only "public option" still on the table is a very limited, expensive and still-uncertain Medicare buy-in and an insurance-industry-controlled "trigger" -- stopgaps that no one following the HCR debate could confuse with an actual public option of the kind previously under discussion.

Even more blatant, however, is a detail that's substantively irrelevant but shows Reid's lack of candor (and his lack of respect for the press). In his release about last night's deal, Reid wrote:

"As is long-standing practice, we do not disclose details of any proposal before the Congressional Budget Office has a chance to evaluate it."

But Reid rolled out his original HCR proposal on November 18 without having a CBO score. To the contrary: when senior staff, speaking on background, held a press conference call to discuss the bill's details down to the jot and tittle, they openly admitted that the bill had NOT been "scored" yet; all they had was CBO "feedback" or estimates.

So: Reid discussed his original bill on national TV and deployed staffers to spend an hour talking to the media about its wonkish details, before it received a CBO score. But Reid won't share even the broad contours of the new deal, other than misrepresenting its abandonment of public option, because of "long-standing practice"?

Give me a break.

Here's the more likely explanation: Reid knows this sausage is going to be such a disappointment that the backlash could well scuttle it and send everyone back to the drawing board. It could even prompt one brave liberal senator -- and it would only take one -- to announce a filibuster of the entire reform bill if it contains the compromise. If just one senator filibusters from the left, Reid and the White House would have no choice but to pass healthcare reform through the budget reconciliation process, which many progressives have called for all along.

Reid hopes that shielding this sausage from public view will increase the chances that Congress, and the public, will swallow it. For our own health, we need to demand that he show us what's being ground up in the sausage factory.

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