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Posts tagged as “health care”

Wyden, Specter and health

Some of the news reports out yesterday about the switch of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter from the Republican to the Democratic caucus mentioned his quick hallway meetup, apparently immediately before the formal announcement, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who greeted him with a big smile and words of welcome.

That came to mind when, today, this passage from a Heritage Foundation (the conservative group) blog post came across:

This is important on policy grounds for a few reasons. One issue that will be dramatically affected is Health Care. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon told CQ: “I think his decision is transformative. . . . This makes a very significant difference in the health care reform discussion.”

Wyden is correct. It will change the debate dramatically, because Senator Specter was one of the chief opponents of so called Hillary-Care during the Clinton Administration and now will be on the other side of the aisle for the debate on comprehensive health care reform. Democrats will have a 60 vote majority and will not have to negotiate with the minority party when crafting a package of health care reforms.

The hall in McMinnville

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley at the McMinnville town hall/Stapilus

Town hall meeting number four for new Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, held (like Senator Ron Wyden's most recent in the same county) at the McMinnville Police Station, had some push and pull within the audience. Maybe there's something reflective of politics generally there: A majority of the crowd of about 100 who wanted to talk about the economy, finance reform and health care, and a smaller (albeit determined) group out to talk - as opposed to question or listen - on illegal immigrants and the citizenship of Barack Obama.

Merkley set up his town hall to run a lot like Wyden's; he was still new at it, and there were kinks to work out. The basics remained the same. There was the relatively nonpartisan nature of it, for one thing; Merkley gave over the floor for while at the beginning to Republican state Representative Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill. (His big topic, and a large one in the area, is the Highway 18 Newberg-Dundee bypass, a road improvement which has been sought after for a couple of decades and may be pursued for quite a few years yet.) Merkley opened with a description of his committee assignments, and what he was doing on them; much of the interest ran to his most recent appointment, to the banking committee, a slot he'd wanted but originally thought he might not be able to get. And the thing was dominated by questions. The audience for the most part seemed to center on the topics of economic recovery and health care.

And on that front he seemed well aligned with the audience, which probably leaned Democratic but wasn't monolithic. (Asking how many favored a single-payer health plan, he drew about 30-40 raised hands; just one raised a hand in opposition.) When he asked, "Did you see that outrageous story about AIG?" he drew an appreciative response from the group, or most of it, which was loaded for bear on the subject. What exactly Congress can or will do about the outrage, however, remained a little less clear.

The inevitable difficulty with the open format - which has the great advantage of fostering open discussion, which it did - is the ease with which it can be hijacked, which happened twice.

First was a person evidently suckered in by the web chatter that Obama was born in Kenya and wasn't a U.S. citizen. The other, longer, case involved a group determined that illegal immigrants were ruining the country and costing taxpayers massively; one called out, "Congress is the problem! You are the problem!" One seemed to argue in favor of an American equivalent of the Great Wall of China (apparently sufficiently unaware of history to know that it didn't work out well there either). That group seemed to want no other subject addressed. Merkley kept cool throughout, though, and pulled the discussion onward, over to health care.

Keeping the debate focused, and the facts in order . . . always a challenge . . .

Wyden at Atlantic

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has participated in an Atlantic magazine discussion about efforts to fund consensus on health care policy; it's an discussion worth watching.

Others participating include geneticist Craig Venter and former FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. The full podcast is available.

Stimulus, health, etc., and Wyden

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

We've attended a number of the town hall meetings over the years by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and today's in McMinnville (number 498; his 500th is Tuesday in Fossil) seemed the most focused of those, on the part of the audience. It may even have been a fair representation, since somewhere over 100 people showed up, more than the norm.

Held in the city's utilitarian new police building, this was a policy session, pretty wonkish, and pretty non-ideological. Economic and stimulus questions dominated, health came in a strong second, with a smattering of remaining questions (during the 90 minutes or so) covering energy, transportation, immigration and secrecy/security issues.

That health care, as policy, was as prominent as it was should be an indicator, because it's not been on recent media radar. Wyden, naturally, was happy to address it, since he's just reintroduced the Healthy Americans Act he's been working on for some years. He sounded optimistic that major developments in health policy will make their way through this year, and said that President Barack Obama has in mind a major passage before the year is out. His own bill, he suggested, seems poised for Senate passage not with a narrow majority, but with as many as 70 to 75 votes.

(He also answered a question no one asked: He will not leave the Senate to take a job as secretary of Health & Human Services. After all the headlines about that possibility, the people in the audience were less concerned about that possibility than about, well, health care.) (more…)

So . . . Wyden at HHS?

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

The job for secretary of Health & Human Services is open. Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who seemed here to be the most logical northwesterner for it, isn't interested (though he says he's open to an advisory role). There's another Northwest name very much on the table, though: Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

There's a case here too. (As Blue Oregon notes, in its posts on the arguments for both Wyden and Kitzhaber.)

There's some overlap between the two, but significant differences as well.

There is, for Democrats, a political downside to a Wyden pick: His Senate seat would be up for grabs. And, Democratic success in Oregon lately notwithstanding, you should assume that it would be. The rule in Oregon is that a Senate vacancy prompts a special election. The last time that happened, about a dozen years ago, the opening seat had been held for three decades by a Republican; the winner in that special election was a Democrat - Wyden. Only months later the other seat was up for election, and it was won by the Republican Wyden narrowly defeated: Gordon Smith. If Wyden's seat opened now, might Smith run for it? Couldn't rule it out. Might he win? Couldn't rule that out, either. In fact, he probably would start out as something of a frontrunner.

But put all that aside and consider the idea of Wyden as HHS secretary, and in effect as one of the primary leaders of the health care reform effort. (more…)

The case for Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

UPDATE Kitzhaber is quoted as saying he wouldn't be interested in a cabinet-level job, though he might be willing to serve as a health policy advisor in some other capacity.

Among the many names circulating to replace Tom Daschle in the key Health & Human Services/health care reform position, many are well-known (from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to Howard Dean and Kathleen Sebelius). One of the lesser-known to the national audience, but mentioned repeatedly as a prospect, is former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

Every candidate mentioned so far has a set of assets and liabilities. Does Kitzhaber make sense for HHS?

He might make excellent sense, if a number of conditions - some applying to him, some to the situation in D.C. - hold true. So, the case for Kitzhaber:

First, on the D.C. side. Part of the appeal (for Barack Obama at least) of Daschle is that the South Dakotan has been tight with the new president: They could work closely together. Another asset is Daschle's experience in Washington, as a majority leader in the Senate: He knows how Washington works from deep inside, and presumably would be a power player in moving health policy. If those points are requirements for the position, then Kitzhaber isn't a fit.

But Obama could look at it another way. His administration already has plenty of D.C. insiders. His party has solid control of the Congress - legislation could be rammed through, if need be, if it has broad support. Building that support would be at least as important, and probably more important, outside Capitol Hill than it would be on. And while having a close friend in this key spot would be a nice thing, it shouldn't be necessary. Being president means developing a lot of relationships with a lot of people. And one other thing: Obama seems much more intent on the broad goals of health policy - such as getting everyone or nearly everyone insured - than on the details, which seem to be more negotiable. He might find it helpful to have in place someone who has worked through the implications of what's happening, and can make effective judgements on policy from a solid knowledge base.

And: There are members of Congress who have health care ideas of their own, and probably no one is more centrally based to push them than Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who already actually has bipartisan support for a large bill that actually would do quite a lot on health care.

Looked at that way, how might Kitzhaber fit? (more…)