‘Centrists’ can still screw everything up

‘CENTRISTS’ CAN STILL SCREW EVERYTHING UP…. Three months ago, when there seemed to be some momentum towards passing health care reform before the August recess, a group of Senate “centrists” — two Republicans, three Democrats, and Joe Lieberman — said it was time to slam on the brakes. They didn’t have an especially strong case, but any hopes of an expedited process immediately came to an end.

Three months later, there’s quite a bit more momentum on reform. “Centrists” have decided to start chatting again. That’s not a good sign.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican … was among a half dozen or so senators from both parties — including Olympia Snowe (R., Maine), Evan Bayh (D., Ind.), and Mary Landrieu (D., La.) — who met privately late Tuesday to begin discussing the next steps in the health care debate. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, also sat in on the session. He said centrists are “very concerned” about the bill’s “impact on real people.” He also worries small businesses may be weighed down with added costs, and forced to shed jobs. “This bill, I’m afraid, will be a job reducer,” he said.

Another meeting participant, Sen. Ron Wyden, voted for the Finance Committee bill. But the Oregon Democrat said he continues to have concerns that the measure doesn’t promote enough choice for consumers and competition for private insurers. He said greater attention also needs to be paid to holding down insurance premiums. “That is what is going to drive the discussion,” he said after the session. “I’m working with everybody…this process is so fluid.”

Now, it’s hard to be critical of what the centrists are proposing, because at this point, they’re not proposing anything. For that matter, I can’t blast their strategy, because it’s not at all clear that they have a strategy.

But to pass a meaningful, ambitious, progressive health care reform bill, the majority will probably need 60 votes to overcome Republican obstructionism. Some of those 60 oppose a public option, and are now chatting with Republicans about how “concerned” they are.

No good can come of this.