Why the Gang of Six is Deciding Health Care for Three Hundred Million of Us

Last night, the so-called “gang of six” — three Republican and three Democratic senators on the Senate Finance Committee — met by conference call and, according to Senator Max Baucus, the committee’s chair, reaffirmed their commitment “toward a bipartisan health-care reform bill” (read: less coverage and no public insurance option). The Washington Post reports that the senators shared tales from their home states, where some have been besieged by protesters angry about a potential government takeover of the nation’s health care system.

It’s come down to these six senators. The House has reported a bill as has another Senate committee, but all eyes are fixed on Senate Finance — and on these three Dems and three Republicans, in particular. But who, exactly, anointed these six to decide the fate of the nation’s health care?

I don’t get it. Of the three Republicans in the gang, the senior senator is Charles Grassley. In recent weeks Grassley has refused to debunk the rumor that the House’s health-care bill will spawn “death panels,” empowered to decide whether the sick and old get to live or die. At an Iowa town meeting last Tuesday Grassley called the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi “intellectually dishonest” for claiming the opposite. On Thursday Grassley told the Washington Post that Congress should scale back its efforts to overhaul health care in the wake of intense anger at town hall meetings. But — wait — the anger is about distortions such as the “death panels” that Grassley refuses to debunk.

This week on Fox News Grassley termed the House bill “the Pelosi Bill,” and called it “a government takeover of heath care, exploding the deficit because it’s not paid for and it’s got high taxes in it.”

I really don’t get it. We have a Democratic president in the White House. Democrats control sixty votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It is possible to pass health care legislation through the Senate with 51 votes (that’s what George W. Bush did with his tax cut plan). Democrats control the House. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a tough lady. She has said there will be no health care reform bill without a public option.

So why does the fate of health care rest in Grassley’s hands?

It’s not even as if the gang represents America. The three Dems on the gang are from Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota — states that together account for just over 1 percent of Americans. The three Republicans are from Maine, Wyoming, and Iowa, which together account for 1.6 percent of the American population.

So, I repeat: Why has it come down to these six? Who anointed them? Apparently, the White House. At least that’s what I’m repeatedly being told by sources both on the Hill and in the Administration. “The Finance Committee is where the action is. They’ll tee-up the final bill,” says someone who should know.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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1 Comment on Why the Gang of Six is Deciding Health Care for Three Hundred Million of Us

  1. Do you really not get it? This isn’t high school government. This isn’t talking points. It’s harder than that. It’s not so straight forward as having 60 votes in the Senate. They aren’t all there. There is some question if Kennedy will be able to vote and let’s not forget Lieberman is in a boat all by himself. Plus some conservative democrats don’t think the public plan is the best idea. As to the 51 votes through reconciliation, it will be very hard to get a good bill through this way (no insurance reform and some question whether a public plan will be able to survive through reconciliation as well). Reconciliation has to do with budgetary measures and this is why the conversational tax cuts went this route. It will be harder to get health care reform through this way. Please read more.

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