Some more disappointing news from the Senate: it looks like the right-wing attack on Bob Bennett is working. As I discussed last week, conservative activists are trying to exploit the Utah Republican’s political vulnerabilities, accusing him of supporting a government takeover of health care because of the Wyden-Bennett reform plans. Unfortunately, Bennett--who’s up for reelection in 2010--seems to be relenting more and more to the pressure. ThinkProgress flags comments he made at a Salt Lake City fundraiser with Karl Rove last Friday, quoting a local paper:
Bennett said his bill is not a negotiating tool on health care, but it will be there as an alternative after Democratic reforms are blocked. “The No. 1 assignment in 2009 is to kill Obamacare,” Bennett said.
Bennett had been ramping up on his criticism of Obama over the summer, but his recent comments have made it clear that he’s shifted into all-out attack mode. While no one expected him to vote in favor of Obama’s bill, Bennett had been one of the more sensible and sane critics of reform. He’s now made it clear that his prerogative is simply to kill the bill, officially abandoning any vestiges of his moderate Republicanism for the hyperpartisan ranks of his party. It’s also a shame because parts of the Wyden-Bennett Act could actually help improve the current reform bill--by expanding the categories of people eligible to participate in the health insurance exchange--which will be especially important if the public plan is dropped. But any such changes will require legislators who are willing to hash things out in the middle--or at least offer constructive criticism of the bill’s weaknesses. And Bennett has apparently decided that he’s no longer willing to engage.
Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.