If you're holding out any hope that Harry Reid might actually be concealing - deep, deep down - an untapped well of leadership potential, it's probably because you haven't seen this story yet:
The Senate Finance Committee will drop a controversial provision on consultations for end-of-life care from its proposed healthcare bill, its top Republican member said Thursday.
The committee, which has worked on putting together a bipartisan healthcare reform bill, will drop the controversial provision after it was derided by conservatives as "death panels" to encourage euthanasia.
"On the Finance Committee, we are working very hard to avoid unintended consequences by methodically working through the complexities of all of these issues and policy options," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement. "We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."
OK. First of all, what the bloody hell is a statement like that doing coming - without contradiction - from the leading Republican on the committee? I wasn't aware that we'd worked long, hard, and effectively to put 60 Democrats into the United States Senate so that Chuck flipping Grassley could run the damn Finance Committee.
Second, but more importantly, how stupid - and on how many different levels - can the Democrats in the Senate possibly get?
The end of life provisions in the bill are controversial because (and only because) the right decided to manufacture a controversy around them. The public uproar over the provisions stems entirely from a series of utter fabrications. The bill does not require counseling. It does not create any sort of panel to carry out counseling. It does not authorize anyone who is not a medical professional to carry out the counseling. It does not force physicians to provide such counseling if they do not want to, and it does not force patients to receive such counseling if they do not want to.
There is very little ambiguity in the provision itself. Dealing with whatever ambiguity exists (primarily in the minds of the opponents of the bill) by throwing out the entire provision is throwing out the baby with the bath water. A reasonable approach to problems with the language of the provision is to clarify the language, not to strip the provision - but that's beside the point unless you suspect Grassley of trying to be reasonable.
I'm hardly an expert in politics, but I can't see any political upside to stripping the provision. The message that it sends is that mob rule works. If you don't like something that Congress might do, lie to people, frighten them, and encourage them to start screaming. It will get you what you want. It's dangerous to let your three-year-old think that sort of thing will work; it's nothing short of insane to allow temper tantrums to set public policy.
I can see even less of an upside to letting Grassley be the one who announces that the provision is history. The Republicans have 40% of the Senate. Why on earth would any sane leader want to send the message that they're the ones actually running the show - even if they are, which certainly seems to be the case here.
More importantly, the provision is good medicine. I haven't talked to a practicing primary care physician yet who wasn't happy about it, and I've talked to some who are typically very conservative. The thing about those end-of-life decisions is that, one way or another, they will be made. There's absolutely no way to avoid that. They can be made in a calm, informed way before the crisis unfolds, or they can be made for you by others - or by default - as things happen. The provision in the bill gives patients - not bureaucrats, not bean counters, not even doctors - more of a say over what kind of care they want to receive at the end of their lives. That's good for everyone.
Unfortunately, it seems like neither good politics nor good medicine is enough of a reason to allow the provision to remain in the bill. At least not as long as we've got the courageous Harry Reid there to inspire his 60-member caucus.