Healing or Exacerbating a Nation’s Divisions?

The month of August has shown us that America is a divided country when it comes to health reform.  There is genuine anger being demonstrated at town hall meetings at the idea of healthcare legislation that would increase the size and scope of the federal government.  By the same token, interest groups pressing for a government-run health plan are ratcheting up their rhetoric as well.

Given this growing chasm in public opinion, there is legitimate reason to be concerned over a report this week in The New York Times that some Senate Democrats are “fleshing out plans” to use budget reconciliation rules that would require only 51 votes, instead of the usual 60, to pass health reform legislation.

It has been said many times that using reconciliation rules would be akin to droping a nuclear bomb on the long-cherished tradition of comity and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.  I think the reverberations, though, would likely go well beyond the walls of the U.S. Capitol.  The resentment felt by many citizens would only intensify if a measure the magnitude of health reform was enacted by one-party rule, using Senate procedures outside of the normal method of dealing with major legislation.

It’s worth noting that, according to a Rasmussen poll released today, public support for the health reform approach advocated by the President and the House congressional leadership has fallen to 42 percent, with 53 percent opposing.

It is not a good thing to have a nation so fiercely divided over legislation that will touch every individual.  For health reform legislation to be sustainable, both in the years leading up to implementation and thereafter, broad public support for whatever Congress adopts will be essential.  As Senators Baucus, Grassley, Conrad and others have said repeatedly, it would be a mistake to rush this process.  A very heated August has underscored the wisdom of that prudent approach.