Clyburn hitting the brakes on healthcare

CLYBURN HITTING THE BRAKES ON HEALTHCARE…. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) disappointed many yesterday, when he said he prefers an incremental approach to healthcare reform. “I would much rather see it done that way, incrementally, than to go out and just bite something you can’t chew,” Clyburn said on C-SPAN. “We’ve been down that road. I still remember 1994.”

The Hill said Clyburn’s comments “could represent a major shift in the House Democrats’ strategy of dealing with the uninsured.” Perhaps not: Clyburn has preferred a take-it-slow, incrementalist approach for quite a while, and there’s no reason to think he was necessarily speaking on behalf of the party’s leadership yesterday.

Either way, Clyburn’s take is discouraging for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, his skittishness based on a 15-year-old fight reflects a lack of imagination. As Digby explained very well, this isn’t 1994: “The Republicans are on the decline not the ascent. Democrats were just given the task of saving the country. The health care crisis, which was already awful, is getting worse with every lay-off and every job lost — and the state governments are going broke and can’t take up the slack. How many uninsured to we have to have before they realize that this crisis can’t just be kicked down the road until they get over their trauma of 1994?”

What’s more, it’s disappointing hearing Clyburn’s take because it’s the opposite of what we’ve heard from the administration. Obama and Daschle have suggested they’re impatient about tackling the issue, and Rahm Emanuel recently said an incrementalist approach won’t do, stressing that the new administration would “throw long and deep.”

Igor Volsky said he can understand Clyburn’s reluctance, but he should do it anyway.

Since we can’t fix the economy without addressing skyrocketing health care costs or lower rising costs without bringing everyone into the system, a broad approach to health care reform is the only politically viable option.

To lower the health care costs of his constituents, Clyburn would have to bring everyone into the system. “In 2002, uninsured South Carolinians cost the system $1,936 per uninsured individual” and without extending coverage to the 16 percent of South Carolinians lacking health insurance or reversing South Carolina’s dubious and costly distinction of falling into the top ten unhealthiest states for eleven years in a row, Clyburn is wasting his voters’ money.

Pushing for big health reform is politically rewarding precisely because it will ultimately save the government and American taxpayers money and help restore the economy. In fact, rather than serving as a deterrent to comprehensive reform — as Clyburn suggests — the consequences of failing to achieve reform in 1994 are a stark warning against incrementalism, or worse, inaction.

Clyburn certainly understands and appreciates the facts, statistics, and economic arguments — he just doesn’t think that it’s politically feasible. But given the intimate connection between the economy and health care costs and general popularity of taking a “bite” out of the health care crisis, comprehensive reform seems not only politically possible, but absolutely essential.

Here’s hoping someone gave Clyburn a call today, explaining the need to get with the program.