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Through the looking glass, start anew with reform effort.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Roger Hite

American politics is getting curiouser and curiouser as we venture down what has become an "Alice in Wonderland"-like rabbit hole of health care reform.

Just as the Mad Hatter is seating all the characters gathering at his tea party - a re-emerging political forum - the White Rabbit scurries through and disrupts the whole affair.

In this version of the story, however, the rabbit is actually Brown.

That's as far as I can stretch the metaphor to make my point about what has happened to our nation's much-needed health care reform legislation. Health care reform has mutated into "political reform."

The Brown Rabbit's message is symbolic: Americans want to temper President Obama's approach. They want him to hear their message and redirect Congress so it can fashion an approach more acceptable to both political parties.

The disruption created by the Brown Rabbit's appearance signals what I hope will be only a temporary pause in the story of health care reform. I'm not discouraged, though, because I don't think Congress or the people it represents have lost any commitment to the goal of improving access to affordable health care for all Americans. The Brown Rabbit signals the need to regroup and get it right, even if it takes another six or nine months.

I know very little about Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts. I have no reason to believe he is much different from Obama - an intelligent, decent man with family values and a desire to help solve America's current political and economic problems.

What makes me nervous, however, is not the fact Brown's election breaks the Democrats' filibuster-proof control of the Senate, which I believed was going to assure some form of successful, albeit partisan, legislation. I worry that Brown's amazing rise will lead Republicans to believe he is the answer to their prayers: a new leader who can challenge the liberal politics of the Obama administration.

Listen to the sound bites of Brown's self-confident rhetoric. It is hard not to be impressed with his apparent charisma. He projects the swagger of a handsome, determined underdog.

Listen to him challenge Obama to two-on-two basketball. It is very populist to have Brown draw the battle line when the president makes a derisive comment about Brown's pickup truck.

It is going to be a sad day for American health care reform if Brown's rabbitlike arrival moves Republican congressional attention away from finding a way to get affordable health care for all and toward using the failure of health care reform as the key to defeating Obama in 2012.

I understand the dilemma Congress faces in the aftermath of Brown's victory. Democrats are fearful of acting on any version of the current bill. Republicans are buoyed by the arrival of the Brown rabbit, who had promised to vote against the bill.

In its current form, the bill is too cumbersome, too filled with special interest compromises and too hard for the American people to understand. It is spurious logic for anyone to conclude "some bill is better than no bill."

It makes more sense to allow both parties to save face so they can get back to the drawing board and refocus on what is needed. As chief of the executive branch, Obama owns the responsibility to lead with such a challenge.

Obama must concede that improving health care access and costs for Americans is not a sprint. It is going to be a marathon of incremental changes.

The president should challenge both parties to select, prioritize and submit agreed-upon improvements in manageable, bite-size chunks. He should temper his rhetoric and avoid use of the grandiose term "reform," and migrate instead toward the concept of "continual improvement."

In short, we need the images of a different fable: Obama must be willing to play the role of the tortoise, not the rabbit, in the race to improve the American health care system. Dump the notion of a single, sweeping comprehensive reform. There is nothing wrong with making a midstream adjustment and beginning anew with a series of smaller bills that address separately the issues of tort reform, fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid, unnecessary medical treatments, pharmacy costs and insurance product costs and availability.

Obama should not take the bait of pickup truck populism. Let the freshman senator from Massachusetts settle into his seat and become part of the solution. Above all, he shouldn't get into any political one-on-one game with this new rising senator.

Obama's goal should be to get his Alice-like Congress out of the rabbit-hole and back to the reality of continually improving the American health care system.

Roger Hite of Eugene is a retired hospital administrator.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 22, 2010
Words:783
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