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The Right-Wing Attack on Bob Bennett

The Hill flags the latest right-wing attack on Republican Senator Bob Bennett--a TV ad from the Club of Growth that slams the Bennett for supporting "massive government control of health care" that will impose "job-killing tax increases." If you missed the first five seconds of the ad, it would be easy to assume that Bennett's bill--which the ad doesn't even bother describing--is one and the same as Obama's health care plan. In fact, the ad rather obliquely attacks the Healthy Americans Act, the alternative reform proposal that Bennett co-sponsored with Wyden, flashing the bill's formal title (S. 391) for just a second on the screen. From the start, of course, Wyden-Bennett bill has been attacked from the left and right for changing fundamental elements of the current employer-based insurance system. But the new climate of right-wing fear-mongering has allowed conservatives to sharpen their claws, accusing anyone who consorts with Democrats of turning the country's health care system into a socialist (or is it fascist?) boondoogle.

In fact, the Wyden-Bennett bill would actually facilitate consumer access to the private market, allowing far more people to access a national health insurance exchange and choose between different (private!) insurance plans. But Bennett's right-wing opponents have seized on the fact that the government has any role in setting up such an exchange as evidence of big-government-loving heresy. "Senator Bennett's Plan: Government health insurance THAT PUSHES YOU OUT of your current plan," the Club for Growth's ad declares. In many ways, the Healthy Americans Act is a far more radical proposal than the Democratic reform plan-but not because it proposes massive government programs. Rather, the bill maintains the primacy of private insurance companies by creating a national health insurance exchange that anyone can opt into-including who receive employer-based coverage. In fact, part of the reason that Democrats have given the bill the cold shoulder is because it deliberately eschews the public option and could partially privatize federal programs like SCHIP and Medicaid.

But Bennett will have a tough time selling the merits of his proposal while defending his right flank from the 2010 primary challengers already lining up at the gate. Over the summer, Bennett has tried to play up his conservative credentials by openly attacking Obama's proposed public option, raising the alarm about British-styled "rationed care," and warning Democrats against using reconciliation to push a bill through. Nevertheless, he's continued to vocally defend his own bipartisan bill, adamantly refusing to join the Republican Party's anti-reform camp. And unfortunately, given the current state of the GOP, that's enough to make him an apostate.