Labor unions, a strong Democratic constituency, want to maintain the current system because they have obtained very expensive policies for their members. But with only 8 percent of private-sector workers in unions, it seems clear that basic reforms like Wyden's would do more for low-earners and ordinary Americans than the Democrats' current plans.
On carbon controls, Democrats pushed through the House a bill larded with exceptions for politically well-positioned lobbies and with provisions for discouraging carbon emissions that are phased in years from now. Elaine Kamarck, one of Vice President Al Gore's top aides in the Bill Clinton years, points out that a far more effective policy would be the flat-out carbon tax that Gore has long proposed. Many environmental group leaders agree.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to reduce the influence of lobbyists. But on health insurance and carbon emissions, congressional Democrats and the Obama White House have been making dozens of deals with lobbyists. Those deals have left them far short of their intended goals and threaten to increase voters' cynicism.
More fundamental reforms -- eliminating the tax preference for employer-provided insurance, imposing a carbon tax -- would leave voters and consumers free to adjust to change as they please, rather than trapped in systems constructed by adept lobbyists.
For those of us who are skeptical of government control of the health insurance market, the Wyden-Bennett bill falls short of opening up the marketplace. And for those of us skeptical of the need for imposing massive costs on current economic activity in order to prevent future environmental damage predicted by some but not all experts, imposing a carbon tax seems hugely unwise.
But at least those proposals address major issues in a relatively clear-cut way and tend to minimize the advantage that well-placed insiders can gain in closed-door Washington meetings. The Democrats are having trouble passing convoluted and plainly imperfect health care and carbon-control bills. Maybe they would be better off going back to basics.