Yes, itâ€™s true. Iâ€™m a liberal Democrat. And proud of it. Well, more often than not. One of the things that truly irritates me about Democrats is the appearance that too many Democrats in elected office at all levels have misplaced or had their spines surgically removed. So today when I read one of Steve Benenâ€™s posts at The Washington Monthly, I about dropped my soon-to-be false teeth. Maybe Harry Reid found his spine or had one implanted. Could it possibly be?
See, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing today. Nothing unusual or noteworthy about that, right? The Senate and its committees bloviate daily, regardless of who is in the majority. This meeting might be different. It was called to discuss â€œProhibiting Price Fixing and Other Anticompetitive Conduct in the Health Insurance Industry.â€ Could be a snorer, right? Well, maybe not so fast.
At some point over the last few months during the discussion about health care reform, I learned that health insurance companies enjoy a limited exemption from anti-trust laws. Been true since a 1945 piece of legislation called The McCarran-Ferguson Act. Turns out that Sen. Pat McCarran was, at the time, the senior senator from, of all places, Nevada (now I know where they got the name for the airport in Las Vegas!).
So at todayâ€™s hearing, the current senior senator from Nevada, and Senate Majority Leader, testified at the Judiciary Committeeâ€™s hearing. Even I know itâ€™s not common for the Majority Leader to testify at a committee hearing. But today this one did. And hereâ€™s some of what he added to the conversation.
Video and transcribed excerpts after the jumpâ€¦
“Since 1945, the insurance industry has enjoyed exemption from federal antitrust laws because of the McCarran-Ferguson Act,” Mr. Reid said. “Pat McCarran, who was the senior senator from Nevada at the time, lent his name to this piece of legislation. Although we’re both Nevadans, I’m not sure what Pat McCarran had in mind when he pushed this bill. And if Pat were around today, he couldn’t be happy with the state of the insurance industry.”
“Providing an exemption for insurance companies to antitrust laws has been anticompetitive and damaging to the American economy,” Mr. Reid continued. “Health insurance premiums have continued to rise at a rapid rate, forcing businesses to cut back on health insurance coverage and forcing many families to choose between health insurance and basic necessities.”
He added: “Insurance companies have become so large they dominate entire regions of the country. They have become so powerful they block start-up businesses from entering the market, and they put smaller companies out of business. They have become so dominant that they dictate business practices. They are so influential that they exert tremendous influence over public policy.”
According to The Washington Postâ€™s Ezra Klein, who also posted today about this, â€œBut Reid isn’t an expert on anti-trust law, and as Senate Majority Leader, he doesn’t spur legislative action by testifying before Senate Committees. He was really there to send a clear and unmistakable signal to the insurance industry in the aftermath of Monday’s assault on health-care reform: Attack us, and we’ll hurt you. Badly.â€
So does this mean Harry Reid found his spine? Is it contagious? Hope springs eternal.