Liberals found their voice this week, pushing back against the Baucus mark-up of health reform by citing a Harvard study saying 45,000 die from lack of insurance each year, running 40% greater risks than those who can get care.
Question is, do they have the votes? Second question. Do they have the will?
Conservative Democrats have to weigh polls showing doctors like the public option with others showing the public split on both the public option and a mandate to buy insurance, which is the centerpiece of the Baucus plan.
Liberals want Democratic Senators to use the reconciliation process to pass a liberal bill, insisting 51 votes are there for a public option, a provision allowing people to buy into a plan similar to Medicare.
The Harvard study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, updated a 1993 study showing the uninsured ran a 25% better chance of losing their bet, and their life. Adjustments were made for income and lifestyle.
The conclusion was stark and unequivocal. "Uninsurance is associated with mortality."
Call it Glenn Beck's death panel.
Study co-author Steffie Woolhandler followed up by calling even the "liberal" bills weak tea that won't solve the problem, supporting a single payer system:
“Even the most liberal version of the House bill would leave 17 million people uninsured. The whittled down version that Senator Max Baucus is proposing would leave 25 million uninsured. That translates into about 25,000 deaths annually from lack of health insurance. Absent the $400 billion in savings you could get from a single payer system, universal coverage is unaffordable. Politicians in Washington are protecting insurance industry profits while sacrificing American lives.”
The failure of Baucus to draw even one Republican supporter, even Maine's Olympia Snowe, also seemed to harden liberal hearts. A bill moving in Massachusetts would let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint an interim replacement for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, restoring the Democrats' majority of 60.
Perhaps recognizing their fading momentum conservative Democrats, and Snowe, showed some love for Baucus' plan yesterday.
The next step in this legislative dance will be some nose-counting among the Democratic majority. Are there 51 solid votes for a public option, 51 who won't waver against points of order from the minority? And is the Majority Leader willing to lead that fight?
Reid so far has hinted he might use reconciliation to pass the Baucus plan, but would he do the same for a public option?
As they might have said in the musical Guys and Dolls, "Mr. Reid, your dice." Is that why reform supporter Paul Simon showed up on Capitol Hill the other day wearing a very snappy Damon Runyon type hat? (Picture from the Web site of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.)