DURBIN DOES HEALTH....

DURBIN DOES HEALTH. I just got back from hearing Dick Durbin talk health care at The Center for American Progress (which has really stepped up the quality of its free sandwiches). His speech was something of a eulogy for Bill Frist's "health care week," which saw the GOP try to score a few "doing something" points on health care by debating, and then defeating, a variety of misguided bills, from tort reform to Mike Enzi's attempt to destroy all state-based insurance regulations. As for Durbin, he's allied with Blanche Lincoln to craft legislation creating a Small Business Health Benefits Program modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. It's a solid bit of wonkery, nothing transformative, but a definite step forward for small businesses who would be able to enter into a mega-association and choose from a menu of plans that would be negotiated by the government's Office of Personnel Management. Tax credits would be provided so low-income workers could buy in.

Durbin also wants a Senate resolution stating universal coverage as a goal for the next ten years. I don't know how useful that is from a policy perspective -- it's not, after all, binding -- but it seems like sound politics. Speaking of politics, Durbin had a great line on the motto of the Ownership Society: "Don't worry, we're all in this alone." Cute, not to mention true. He also called the current White House occupants a "regime -- I mean, administration," but that was as far as the partisanship went. Which was partially the problem: Nothing he said was particularly exciting, or visionary, or even progressive. Durbin is renowned as something of a hack-and-slash fighter, but all he really offered a was technocratic proposal to allow small businesses better bargaining power. If he's that hard up for ideas, maybe he should've wandered down the hall, where the Center for American Progress's health team keeps their policy proposal. That, at least, is a plan for universal coverage, and a stark contrast with the right's fetish for individualism

--Ezra Klein

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