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Health Reform Should Have Broad, Bipartisan Support? Really?


Following up on Dave’s post, Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), the Republican point-man on Senate health reform legislation this year, says he’s still interested in forging a bipartisan health reform deal — so long as the bill can win an overwhelming majority in the upper chamber.

“Something as big and important as health care legislation should have broad-based support,” Grassley said in a statement issued yesterday.

“We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes,” he told The Washington Post.

Funny, then, that in 2003, when Republicans pushed through the Medicare Modernization Act — which represented the single largest overhaul to the Medicare program since its creation nearly 40 years earlier — the same rule wasn’t in effect.

Indeed, the MMA, which created both the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the Medicare Advantage program — was popular among Republicans because it took broad steps toward privatizing the popular seniors’ health care program. But it certainly wasn’t embraced by those across the aisle. Indeed, the final bill passed the Senate by a count of 54 to 44, with support from just 11 of the 46 Democrats who voted that day.

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In the House, the count was even closer, with Republicans ultimately forced to hold the 15-minute vote open for nearly three hours while party leaders twisted arms and literally bribed members in efforts to gain support. Then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), for example, offered to endorse the son of Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) in an upcoming election in exchange for his vote. Smith refused, and “ten months after that rejected offer was made and after 3,400 pages of sworn testimony and response to subpoenas were analyzed, the House ethics committee admonished DeLay for ‘improper’ behavior,” The Hill’s Bob Cusack wrote in the definitive account of that vote published two years after the fact.

Another GOP leader, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (Calif.), allegedly offered Smith’s daughter a job in Hollywood.

The tactics worked, and the bill passed at dawn by a count of 220 to 215, with just 16 of 205 voting Democrats supporting the bill.

This is all a long way of saying: Republicans might care about broad-based support on enormous health care reforms — but only when they’re in the minority.

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