I have an idea that can resolve several vexing problems for the Democrats at once. It involves health care. You may remember that the 1993 effort to enact HillaryCare had a rough ride in the Senate. There was a battle between the chairman of the Finance Committee, Pat Moynihan, and the chairman of the Health Committee, Teddy Kennedy, over who would have jurisdiction of the bill. In the end, Moynihan won and HillaryCare was essentially doomed.
We now have a second go-round and the Senate will have to resolve whether ObamaCare will be handled by the Finance Committee (chaired by Max Baucus) or the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee (still chaired by the ailing Teddy Kennedy). Meanwhile, in the House, there is a battle over the chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Commerce between John Dingell and Henry Waxman. The committee has responsibility for health care reform and Dingell has introduced a health care reform bill in every Congress since the 1950’s. Dingell’s problem is not on health care, but on energy and environmental concerns where he is seen as too beholden to the automaking industry in Detroit. Pelosi wants him out of the way so that the House can pursue Obama’s green-energy program.
Another pressing problem is what to do about Hillary Clinton. She campaigned hard for Barack Obama but she has very little seniority and only chairs a minor subcommittee of the Environment & Public Works Committee. And then there is the gorilla in the room…Joe Lieberman. Should Lieberman stay in the caucus? Should he lose his committee chair?
All of these problems can be addressed to one degree or another by creating two special committees on health care reform (one for each house of Congress). A special committee is a temporary committee that goes out of existence once there is no longer any need for it to continue. Here is how my proposal would work.
In the House: Henry Waxman would get the chair of Energy & Commerce, removing Dingell’s obstruction on environmental issues. Dingell would, instead, be granted the chair of the new Select Committee on Universal Health Care. This would allow Dingell to fulfill his 50-year long ambition to create universal health care. The rest of the committee could be manned by members of the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health. It might look something like this:
House Special Committee on Universal Health Care
Chair- John Dingell (D-MI)
Pete Stark (D-CA)
Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ)
Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
Edolphus Towns (D-NY)
Bart Gordon (D-TN)
Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA)
Gene Green (D-TX)
Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Earl Pomeroy (D-ND)
The Republicans could, of course, staff this committee in any manner they desire.
In the Senate: we could create a kind of co-chair situation that recognizes the precarious nature of Sen. Kennedy’s health as well as the Finance Committee’s historic prerogatives. Hillary Clinton could be the next ranking member, and Joe Lieberman could be ranked after her, compensating him somewhat for the loss of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee. The rest of the members would be split between members of Finance’s Subcommittee on Health Care and the full HELP Committee. It might look like this:
Senate Special Committee on Universal Health Care
Co-Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA)
Co-Chair Max Baucus (D-MT)
Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, IV (D-WV)
Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)
John F. Kerry (D-MA)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD)
All of the proposed members of these hypothetical special committees are experienced, high-ranking, members in the field of health care. The three biggest and longest advocates of universal health care (Dingell, Kennedy, and Clinton) would all be in a position to take credit. Waxman would be situated to take over energy issues, but Dingell would be well compensated. Clinton would get recognition for both her historic primary campaign and her willingness to campaign for Obama. Kennedy could live to see his greatest desire fulfilled and Baucus would not get unjustly cut out of the deal. Finally, Lieberman would have a prominent role and something to take home to his constituents, but he’d also be punished for siding with McCain.
What say you?