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Rolly: GOP traded negotiator for a circus act

Published October 19, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Former Sen. Bob Bennett does not like Obamacare. He believes it is a poorly written bill headed for innumerable pitfalls in the coming months.

And if he were in the Senate and still one of the behind-the-scenes leaders in the Republican Caucus, as he once was, he would be calling attention to those pitfalls and building a campaign against Obamacare to give Republicans an advantage heading into 2014 midterm elections when the GOP hopes to retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House.

He never would have agreed to force a government shutdown unless the Democratic Senate and president agreed to defund their signature pice of legislation in recent years.

That's why the Republican Party made such a horrible mistake in 2010 when they dumped Bennett in the GOP State Convention and eventually elected to replace him the young upstart Mike Lee.

They traded a proven legislative diplomat in for a red-faced, tight-lipped ideologue whose appeal is to a narrow, right-wing base and whose image to everyone else is becoming more clownish each day.

If Bennett was in the Senate and was having his way, the focus of the country would be on the shortcomings of Obamacare. Instead, the focus is on the Republicans in Congress willing to bring the country to the brink of disaster unless they get their way.

Bennett had already angered the right wing of his party when he indicated he was willing to compromise on immigration reform. Where he had been warmly received in conservative circles before that announcement, he suddenly found a chill in the air.

The conservative Club for Growth decided to make him a target. Then he helped negotiate the TARP agreement to forestall what many economists predicted would be such a financial collapse it could lead to another Great Depression.

Then Obamacare passed and the tea party emerged like a tsunami on the Republican landscape.

Before all that, Bennett had worked with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on a bi-partisan health care bill that initially had traction and eventually had 19 co-sponsors nearly equally divided between Republicans and Democrats before it was chewed up in the grinder of partisan politics in Washington.

Wyden brought traditional Democratic ideas to the table, Bennett brought traditional Republican ideas. They each gave a little, they listened to credible input from others and they had what many thought was a workable health reform plan.

The key for Bennett was separating a person's health care from his or her employer. Rather than the employer buying the health insurance, he suggested the employer give the employee the money the company would have spent on its share of the premium. Then the person could go on the open market and buy his or her own insurance.

He also promoted the idea of a health savings plan. A person could spend so much of the employer's contribution on his or her premium, then put the rest in a savings account to be used in case he or she got sick.

"(Wyden's) key was universal coverage," Bennett told me in a recent interview. "He wanted it in the form of an individual mandate. I said, 'OK, I'll give you your universal coverage if you give me market forces.'"

Their bill eventually got hijacked in favor of a more liberal agenda that morphed into Obamacare.

But they had an idea that sounded good to both sides of the aisle in Congress.

That is far different from the Laurel and Hardy show Sen. Lee and his compatriot Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has embarrassed the Senate with over the past several weeks. —




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