White House, Former DNC Chief Battle Over Compromises in Senate Health Bill

By Fred Lucas | December 16, 2009 | 7:04 PM EST

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (AP Photo)

White House (CNSNews.com) – The White House on Wednesday fired back at former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who has emerged in recent days as the liberal leading critic of the Senate health care overhaul. Dean is calling the watered-down bill the “insurance companies’ dream.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said some of Dean’s assertions “simply weren’t true,” and Gibbs also said he did not think “any rational person” would take Dean’s position of scrapping the Senate bill.

Dean, a former presidential candidate and Vermont governor, said no bill would be better than passing a bill that subsidizes the private insurance industry.

“Decisions are made about the long-term future of this country for short-term political reasons -- and that's never a good sign,” Dean, a doctor, told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. “There are some good things in this bill. The problem is we’re now committed to a solution using the private insurance companies. And you will be forced to buy insurance. If you don't, you'll pay a fine.”

The Senate proposal still includes mandates on individuals to purchase insurance and mandates on employers to provide insurance, and would allow for federal funding of abortion. The version that passed the House includes a government run plan to compete with private insurers and includes language that would prohibit federal funding of abortion through the plan. 

Moderates in the Democratic caucus such as Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have held back on pledging their support, forcing the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make concessions.

Dean is upset that the government-run plan and an expansion of Medicare have been dropped from the Senate proposal as a means of reaching the needed 60 votes to stop a filibuster of the bill.

Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“This is a bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG,” Dean said. “A very small number of people will get insurance, if at all, until 2014. This is the insurance companies' dream, this bill.”

Gibbs dismissed Dean’s remark.

“If this is an insurance company’s dream, then the insurance companies didn’t get the memo,” Gibbs said. “The insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television ads. They are trying to kill the bill. If this is such a good deal for them, I’m not entirely sure why they’re fighting it.”

He said the comments Dean made about mandates “quite simply weren’t true.”

“Nobody will be required to purchase something they can’t afford,” Gibbs said. “There are hardship exemptions and subsidies based on income levels.”

“I don’t know what piece of legislation he [Dean] is reading,” Gibbs continued. “I don't think any rational person would say killing a bill makes any sense at this point."

When a reporter asked if Dean was being irrational, Gibbs said, “I can't tell what his motives are, to be honest with you.”

Gibbs also said Dean is undermining what many Democrats, including him, have fought for. He stressed that the Senate plan closely resembles Dean’s health care proposal from his 2004 campaign.

“In 2004, a certain presidential candidate wanted to add to the existing health care system, private sector employer-based, those that are currently uninsured,” Gibbs said. “That’s what Dr. Dean campaigned on in 2003 and 2004. That’s what this bill will do.”