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Our Views: An unhealthy obsession
Congress was determined to pass health plan without a clear national consensus
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THE BLITZ: Buford at Jefferson

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Depending on your point of view, the nearly $1 trillion plan to overhaul the nation's health insurance that Congress could pass today either is the "Little Engine That Could" chugging doggedly uphill amid trials and tribulations, or that chain saw-wielding psycho wearing the hockey mask in the "Friday The 13th" movies that no one can kill.

Perhaps more accurately, it is The Blob That Ate Washington. For nearly a year, health care has dominated the majority party's agenda. And until it either passes or goes down in flames, that's not likely to change.

The goal to reform the nation's health insurance process was greeted by most with sighs of "it's about time." Presidents, Congresses and candidates for those offices have promised to address health costs and insurance availability for a generation, yet with no measurable success to show for it.

Most can agree on a few general objectives: Get more people covered, make insurance more affordable, available and portable, and cut health costs any way possible. How to achieve these goals is where the debate comes in. It's an important issue and a worthwhile debate to have.

But even as the clock ticks down, there clearly is nothing close to a consensus, either in Congress or the nation. If that were the case, some kind of reform would have passed years ago.

When President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders unveiled their health care ideas last summer, supporters applauded while opponents went ballistic. Town-hall meetings during the August recess degenerated into shouting matches as members of Congress got several earfuls from constituents who didn't like where the bill was going.

Granted, a lot of their fears were based on concerns that weren't all in the bill, but their main point was made loud and clear: Fix health care problems, but don't do it by adding to the federal bureaucracy and our out-of-control national debt.

Yet despite the protests, the bill managed to squeak through both the House and Senate, leavened by pork spending and sweetheart deals handed to a few recalcitrant Democrats from red states. Under normal circumstances, it would then have been steered into a conference committee to iron out the differences.

But Democratic leaders worried that the votes were no longer there as public sentiment soured. So instead of letting the bill run its course, leaders on Capitol Hill devised a couple of end-run schemes to try and ram it through.

The first was a seldom-used procedure known as reconciliation, where the House would pass the Senate version, then amend it after the fact. When the vote still seemed too close for comfort, the next trick was a way for House members to vote for changes without voting for the entire bill, called "deem and pass."

All along, Obama had said the bill should get an "up or down vote," then decided the procedure for such a vote doesn't much matter. Yet it does to voters who deserve to know exactly how their representatives stand on the issue rather than allow them to hide from their true position.

Only when the Democrats felt the vote was in hand did they relent to an actual vote on the plan, now set for today. All along, their goal was to give members some political cover from angry voters back home in an election year. Many know their vote will be used against them during the coming campaign and want to shield themselves from any fallout.

Whatever the final result, the convoluted path toward passage indicates how divided Congress, and the country, is over the issue. Whether it passes or fails, a big slice of the electorate is going to be unhappy.

It's hard to recall a domestic issue this polarizing in years. Oddly, though, it doesn't have to be that way. There are modest health insurance fixes that reasonable minds could agree on, some of which the current bill provides. That's why many feel incremental steps would be more prudent than such a massive, expensive overhaul.

This health plan has the unique status of being opposed by both wings of the major parties. Hard-line conservatives oppose the plan's price tag, federal mandates on private insurers and a requirement that everyone must purchase coverage. Liberals are upset that the public option was left out, believe the bill is too small in scope and want to reform the private health insurance industry completely.

And yet we still face the likelihood that it will become law by the barest of congressional majorities. Our leaders' obsession to pass something they are convinced is good for us is paternalism at its worst. They should realize that any bill that such a large number of Americans oppose faces an uphill climb toward success.

Win, lose or draw, the final result in this political shell game is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths for years to come.

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