Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grassley's Poor Faith in Negotiating

President Barack Obama praised Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for being one of the three Republican senators who apparently decided to work with their Democratic colleagues and the president on health care reform. The president thanked the senator last week and then again on Tuesday during a health care reform town hall held in New Hampshire.

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, during this time, criticized ceding too much to the opposition's negotiators for two reasons. First, many consider the public option and mandatory insurance coverage without preconditions vital for any health insurance reform to be vital. The public option, they said, was needed to keep the insurance companies honest.

Just as important, in their estimation, however, were the prospects for a bipartisan bill when the opposition doesn't negotiate in good faith. Some noted that the president received no such cooperation from the opposition when the House and Senate voted on his economic stimulus package. No House Republicans voted for that bill. In the senate, he enlisted the support of Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Arlen Specter (then a Republican from Pennsylvania).

Senator Grassley, unfortunately, proved the progressives who argued against the negotiations with the opposition right when he said we should fear the end of life counseling provided for in the House bill at a time when some within the party accused the administration and the House Democrats who voted for the bill of supporting "death panels" to decide who lives and who dies.

""There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," the Republican senator from Iowa said. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Nothing in the house bill removes the power of writing living wills from the patient and his or her doctor. The provision merely provides for a paid consultation between the patient and his or her doctor when and if the patient asks for such an end-of-life consultation.

Mr. Grassley has every right to call off the negotiations if and when he believes there is no reason to believe he, his Democratic colleagues, and the president cannot resolve their political and philosophical differences and he can, when that moment comes, say there were irreconcilable differences that lead him to oppose the bill making its way through the senate.

The senator may not have officially called off the negotiations or announce his opposition to a senate bill, but he definitely stabbed the president in the back by suggesting that there is some merit behind the outrageous and patently false claim that Obama is pushing for a "death panel."

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