Yesterday, Dem Sen. Ron Wyden proposed a universal health insurance plan, flanked by the head of the Service Employees International Union and the CEO of Safeway.
It's good to see some leadership, and an attempt to positively move the debate on a major issue.
But it'd be better if the Democratic Party, as a whole, leads in an organized fashion.
We need the eventual debate to be a productive one.
One that helps Democrats articulate unifying core principles while informing the public what all of their options are -- as opposed to a debilitating debate that prompts reporters to play up party divisions instead of substantive issues.
18 months ago, I published an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune urging Dems to declare victory in the Social Security debate and pivot towards addressing the real crisis in health care:
...Democrats [should] begin addressing the real crisis of Medicare and skyrocketing health care costs, by putting on the table a few comprehensive reform plans, leading their own hearings to foster public debate and discussion about them, and culminating with a single plan for the party to run on in the 2006 congressional elections.
Of course, Dems won without doing that. But they still have something to prove regarding their ability to tackle big issues.
With control of Congress, they can actually get a plan passed.
But any comprehensive reform will surely be vetoed by Dubya (unless Dems pass an ineffective watered-down bill) making it an issue for the public to directly weigh in on come 2008.
Therefore, to best set the stage for 2008, we need a healthy process in 2007.
One that articulates that all Democrats believe in representative, responsive and responsible government that hears the public call for universal health insurance.
One that gives all proposals a fair hearing, and doesn't sow party division by marginalizing proud liberal voices.
One that trusts the public to assess all the available options, and presses the media to properly inform the public of their options.
One that builds trust in the Democratic Party's ability to deliver on difficult issues.
Sen. Wyden is properly doing his job, following through on his work with the Citizens' Health Care Working Group which he helped establish. He is leading and deserves praise.
Yet we should be wary of a process chaotically pushed forward by a handful of freelancing congresspeople, instead of led in an organized fashion from the top.
This is a major issue, and a complex one. How the party handles the process will likely be just as important as the quality of any final bill.
Let's proceed boldly and carefully.