Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the coauthors of the Affordable Care Act, now thinks Democrats may have been better off not passing it at all and holding out for a better bill.
The Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, laments the complexity of legislation the Senate passed five years ago.
He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress.
“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.
“What we did is we muddle through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added.
Just last week Chuck Schumer made similar remarks.
“Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them” in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2008 amid a national recession, Schumer of New York said in a speech in Washington. “We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.”
Democrats should have addressed issues aiding the middle class to build confidence among voters before turning to the health-care system overhaul, Schumer said. He spoke at the National Press Club to analyze the results of this month’s election, when Republicans took control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives.
Now Harkin would have gone the other way, and implemented full single-payer, or at the minimum a public option.
But he believes the nation might have been better off if Democrats didn’t bow to political pressure and settle for a policy solution he views as inferior to government-provided health insurance.
“All that’s good. All the prevention stuff is good but it’s just really complicated. It doesn’t have to be that complicated,” he said of the Affordable Care Act.
Harkin, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, says in retrospect the Democratic-controlled Senate and House should have enacted a single-payer healthcare system or a public option to give the uninsured access to government-run health plans that compete with private insurance companies.
“We had the votes in ’09. We had a huge majority in the House, we had 60 votes in the Senate,” he said.
He believes Congress should have enacted “single-payer right from the get go or at least put a public option would have simplified a lot.”
“We had the votes to do that and we blew it,” he said.
As I recount in Unprecedented, there were not even 60 votes for single payer. Recall that Senator Nelson was opposed to a government-run program, as we are reminded in his comments opposing a federal health care exchange in lieu of state exchanges. Ahem.
Harkin faults the President for not doing a better job persuading Nelson!
Harkin, however, believes Obama and Democratic leaders could have enacted better policy had they stood up to three centrists who balked at the public option: Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), a Democrat turned independent, Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).
He argues they could have been persuaded to vote for the legislation if Obama had put more effort into lobbying them.
“The House passed public option. We had the votes in the Senate for cloture,” he said.
“There were only three Democrats that held out and we could have had those three,” he added. “[Sen.] Mark Pryor [D-Ark.] so we could have had Lincoln. We could have had all three of them if the president would have been just willing to do some political things but he wouldn’t do it.