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Time for the Blue Dogs to Show Their True Colors

If Blue Dogs were really the courageous fiscal conservatives they claim to be, they would insist on a more modest benefits package for the basic insurance policy that everyone would be required to buy under the House proposal.

And, to help pay for universal coverage, they would back some sort of tax on gold-plated benefit packages that encourage patients to consume too much health care or become indifferent to what things cost.

If Blue Dogs were eager to break the hold of special interests, they might have found a creative way to resolve the long-standing feud between doctors and plaintiff's lawyers over medical malpractice. Although doctors and their Republican supporters overstate the impact of exorbitant damage awards and malpractice premiums, plaintiffs' lawyers and their Democratic puppets understate the degree to which malpractice suits leads doctors to overtest, overprescribe and overtreat. A centrist solution would be to shield doctors from lawsuits when they follow protocols established by national medical boards. It might also set a reasonable cap on punitive damages -- but only in states that establish tough, independent boards to investigate and discipline doctors.

The problem with the Blue Dogs is that they tend to confuse centrism with splitting the difference between the warring camps, or making policy by choosing one from Column A and one from Column B. The more effective centrists use their political leverage to create a Column C.

Steven Pearlstein can be reached at pearlsteins@washpost.com.


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