Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said that Senate Democrats' healthcare legislation is so diluted it threatens the party's 2010 chances.

Appearing on MSNBC, the former Vermont governor and outspoken proponent of healthcare reform charged Democrats were "playing with dynamite in terms of dividing the party.”


"The big problem is the policy. This thing has been pretty watered down," Dean said during the interview, noting the House bill was "better" than the "decent" Senate bill. "Right now, it's about as watered down as it can get and still be a real bill. For example, there's really no insurance reform in this bill, already."

Dean's unequivocal prediction on Monday echoes a round of criticism that liberal Democrats have already lobbed at the Senate's healthcare reform bill, which cleared a key test vote on Saturday.

Many in the party balk at the bill's inclusion of abortion language, fret that its public option includes an opt-out clause and fear its lack of a strong employer mandate undermines reform.

Dean too assailed both chambers' proposals on Monday for those same omissions and changes, describing healthcare reform writ large as a "huge problem" for the president and Democrats next year.

Obama's absence from the 2010 ticket, combined with the party's "watered-down" work, could disenfranchise the party's liberal base, perhaps keeping it from heading to the polls, Dean warned.

Ultimately, the former DNC chairman told MSNBC that Democrats would "rue the day they didn't go to budget reconciliation to pass this bill."

"I believe they should have gone through reconciliation — that would have solved all of these problems — but we're going to see a lot more of this," he said of the ongoing healthcare debate.