Yes, we can have bipartisan healthcare reform this year

I think they are wrong. And I now, for the first time, believe there will be some health reform legislation that passes this year that goes far down the road — maybe not 100 percent — to fundamental reform of our national healthcare system. (Full disclosure: I support a single-payer system, but I know that can never happen.)

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Let’s start with three basic principles that many conservatives and liberals alike are indicating they could support as the basis for any healthcare proposal:

• Mandatory purchase of health insurance by all employers and by all who can afford it, including a financial penalty to be paid by those who refuse to purchase it relative to the average cost of everyone else’s insurance policies;

• Mandatory coverage by all insurance companies of everyone who applies — meaning no denial for pre-existing conditions or other loopholes that allow insurance companies to deny coverage just when sick individuals need it the most; and

• Public subsidy of those who can’t afford insurance — but it may have to be in steps, over a period of time, when the economy recovers and the deficit is reduced by economic growth.

Make no mistake: These are the three core principles that have a chance of getting broad bipartisan support. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll shows that, without the public option, these proposals are supported by the American people by a 50-42 percent margin.

This may not seem to be a substantial margin of support for the president’s healthcare proposals. But my theory is that if Obama and the Democrats start with these three principles (largely encompassed in the proposal just floated by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., of the Senate Finance Committee), they can be a basis for negotiations with constructive Republicans who want to fix the broken system (as opposed to those who wish to cause Obama a “Waterloo” on healthcare for purely partisan purposes).

By constructive Republicans, I am thinking of such senators as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) — all of whom are the kinds of senators who have said repeatedly they want to work for a solution and do not subscribe to the theory that it makes political sense for Republicans to oppose any healthcare at all to hurt Obama politically.

Why shouldn’t Democrats start with the above three core principles — and then consider various constructive conservative ideas, such as assurances that the system will remain privately based; significant tort reform to help private physicians bring down insurance costs; coverage of preventive medicine and wellness programs that in the long run is less costly than only insuring illness; requiring higher deductible policies to require responsible medical decisions rather than assuming someone else is going to pay for unnecessary tests; encouraging hospitals and physicians to charge flat fees, rather than specific fees for services, etc.?

The same Washington Post/ABC polls showed more than 70 percent of all Americans — including majorities of both parties — want the Democrats to reach out and find compromises with Republicans.

I have faith that if there is true openness by Obama and liberals to the conservative ideas of the Republicans mentioned above and others as well, and that we can have bipartisan healthcare reform in this country this year, providing a foundation for incremental changes and expansion of coverage in the years to come.

I heard Sens. McCain and Graham on TV the other night at a town meeting in South Carolina ask to be invited into the room and express a willingness to work with the president and Democrats to come up with a bipartisan bill.

Why not just say yes and see what happens?

If there is anyone who has the leadership skills and affability to pull that off and create a bipartisan consensus with these men — including showing respect and deference to the gracious man who ran against him in the general election — Barack Obama is the one to do it.

Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2005-06. He is the author of Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics is Destroying America.