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When Jonathan Cohn asked how many members of his Salomon 001 audience would identify themselves as left-of-center, nearly all the people in attendance in the half-full auditorium raised their hands. When he further narrowed the group — asking "how many of you are excited about the way health care is turning out?" — every hand went down.

Cohn, a senior editor for the New Republic, was the speaker Tuesday at the annual John Hazen White Lecture presented by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. In his talk, Cohn reflected on the alternatives to current health-care policy, as well as the policies he prefers for health-care reform. Cohn emphasized the fact that though the current bills in Congress leave something to be desired — especially for the left-of-center group — perfection is an unattainable goal, "something is better than nothing" and there are many positive aspects of the legislation currently under debate.

Though Cohn admitted that he has an ongoing bet with himself over which will come first — health-care reform or the return of non-seasonal Starbucks cups — the overall tone of his speech was optimistic.

He said the legislation coming out of the House of Representatives and Senate is "not everything we talked about, everything we wanted." The House's proposed plan is expected to increase drug industry profits by 3 percent, Cohn said, which backtracks on President Barack Obama's promise not to let interest groups dictate policy.

Cohn said he is disappointed that Congress is not considering a single-payer system for health care, which exists in France and other countries that have lower health-care costs, but he understands such a plan would not be politically feasible in the U.S.

Still, Cohn remained hopeful for the reform process. "Say what you will about the bills going through Congress," he said. "They will put an end to the practice of excluding based on pre-existing conditions. A lot of people are going to get help."

"How many times can we say that overnight we made life better for 36 million people?" he said.

As for his own policy prescription, Cohn said he is an "enthusiastic supporter" of the public option, but too many people consider it a requisite part of a final bill. He said an excise tax on generous insurance benefits and the formation of a Medicare commission were both crucial to any new legislation. He also said he was concerned that the Senate's bill would leave insurance consumers with too many options.

According to Cohn, the fact that the proposed legislation is not perfect should not prevent its passage.

"This is what we do in the U.S. We pass imperfect laws and then we work like hell to make them better," he said.

Adjunct Lecturer in Political Science Daniel Ehlke PhD '09, who attended the lecture, agreed with Cohn that his opinions of the current debate were mixed, but that something was better than nothing.

"I think this was a very comprehensive, well-balanced discussion of the important issues at hand," Ehlke said.


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