Evan Bayh’s moral wrongs

EVAN BAYH’S MORAL WRONGS…. The solution to the health care reform debate seems pretty obvious — the House approves the Senate bill; the Senate agrees to improvements through reconciliation. One of the obstacles, of course, is the group of center-right Democrats who not only don’t want to return to the issue, but are staunchly opposed to using reconciliation.

It’s worth fully appreciating, though, why reconciliation is considered so distasteful. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) explained that the procedure should be avoided because it may bother Republicans. And if Republicans are bothered, they may not work with Democrats on bipartisan solutions. Seriously, that’s the argument.

“There would be some real consequences from that for the legislative agenda for the rest of the year,” Bayh told me last night, “the other things the president called for: cooperation on education, financial reform, a whole host of other things.”

Bayh says he sees a real prospect for bipartisanship on those issues, but that Republicans will walk away if Democrats play hardball on health care.

“The problem with reconciliation is that it runs a real risk…of poisoning the well on progress on some of these areas,” Bayh said.

This is so hopelessly misguided, it’s hard to know where to start. I’d remind Bayh, for example, that reconciliation has been used plenty of times in recent years, and the institution and its members survived just fine. I’d also ask why on earth Bayh think Democrats giving up on their signature domestic policy initiative would suddenly make Republicans — who’ve run a scorched-earth campaign since Day One — open to bipartisan compromise on a whole host of issues.

But let’s put all of that aside and characterize this in a way that too often goes overlooked. Bayh isn’t just wrong about the legislative process; he’s wrong about morality.

Getting reform done isn’t just about passing some bill; it’s about helping millions of Americans suffering under the current system. As anyone even passively familiar with the debate surely knows, the tens of millions of Americans with no coverage are struggling with a burden unseen in other major democracies. Thousands more join the ranks of the uninsured every day. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because they have no insurance. Hundreds of thousands of others fall into medical bankruptcy — and most of these medical bankruptcies involve people who have insurance, but whose coverage proves inadequate.

Bayh’s argument, quite literally, is that those suffering under a dysfunctional status quo will just have to continue to suffer, because the legitimate legislative procedure needed to help them might annoy Republicans.

Helping those who are suffering isn’t as high a priority as maybe getting some GOP help on a few issues?

It might take a little principled courage and compassion to help get reform finished. But Bayh would have us believe the millions counting on reform becoming law should just wait — indefinitely.

How anyone could perceive this as anything but morally outrageous is a mystery to me. I want Evan Bayh to go to Indianapolis this weekend and meet with a family that lost their coverage because someone lost their job, or maybe a family that can’t get coverage because someone has a pre-existing condition, or maybe a family going into bankruptcy because one of its members had the audacity to get sick. He should explain to them that they’ll have to go without because he’s worried that Republicans might be unhappy if Dems use a legislative procedure that Republicans have already used plenty of times.

Go ahead and ask them, Evan, if they think that’s a reasonable way to go.