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Senator Chuck Grassley has been holding town-hall meetings around the state this week, and the Iowa Democratic Party highlighted a fun clip from his June 30 meeting in Waukon. A constituent wanted to know why his health insurance policy was so much more expensive than Grassley's, despite having less generous coverage.
The senator advised the questioner to "go work for John Deere" if he wanted a better insurance policy. (Not too practical, since Deere has laid off workers in Dubuque, Ottumwa and the Quad Cities this year.) As Grassley tried to move on to the next question, the man continued to press for details about Grassley's own coverage, and the senator advised him to go talk to the people at the Farm Services Administration about health insurance.
But the questioner followed up again: "How come I can't have the same thing you have?"
Hoping that health care reform plans implode under weight of Democratic in-fighting is a bet he's not willing to make.
"I'm not a gambler." Grassley said. "If you go a partisan way, the Democrats have the capability of screwing up our health care system forever. If it is screwed up forever, we could get big majorities two or four years down the road, but we ain't going to turn it around. So I'm a little more cautious than a lot of my Republican colleagues."
The best bet for getting a bill to President Obama this year is the bipartisan work being done by the Senate Finance Committee where he is the ranking Republican, Grassley said. Whatever reform plan that comes out of the House will be highly-partisan just by the nature of the House, he predicted. Sen. Ted Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has rejected Republican input.
I'm supposed to believe that Grassley is worried about the public option because it would "screw up" health care so badly that Republicans couldn't fix it even with large majorities?
First of all, Republicans aren't going to win back the Senate majority in two or four years. It will be a longer climb.
Second, Republicans are fighting the public option because they're afraid it would work too well, causing private insurers to lose market share to the more affordable public plan. (See here.) They are desperate to avoid that outcome because it would likely realign American politics in the Democrats' favor for a long time. That's what Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz is warning them against.
I sincerely hope that the House Progressive Caucus votes down a Grassley-friendly bipartisan health care bill (individual mandate to buy for-profit private insurance that doesn't compete with any public plan). If President Obama wants to claim victory on this issue, he'll have to get behind a bill that would be better than the status quo. Democrats would be fools to listen to Grassley on either the substance or the politics of health care reform.