The short answer is: It's Harry Reid's fault. But let me back up a bit.
The New York Times published an important article February 24 on the fears that many Americans have about seeking out genetic testing for disease. A positive test for a pre-disposition to a genetically-based disease could lead to higher health insurance premiums, a loss of coverage altogether, or even the loss of a job.
It's a scary situation for anyone, especially for those who have family histories of such illnesses. Do you get tested and put your healthcare and job at risk? Or avoid testing - and, of course, put your very health at risk?
Fortunately, Rep. Louise Slaughter has a solution (at least until we have universal healthcare). After twelve years of being rebuffed by recidivist Republicans, Rep. Slaughter was finally able to pass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (aka GINA) after Democrats re-took the House last year. As she explained at the time:
GINA will prevent the improper use of genetic information when workforce and insurance decisions are made. To put it another way, employers and insurance companies will be prohibited from using genetic information as a factor in determining hiring, firing, promotion, or medical coverage decisions. It will allow people to take and participate in genetic tests that could save their lives and the lives of others, without fear of their test results being used against them.
The bill passed overwhelmingly, 420-3. Everyone assumed that passage in the Senate would be a cakewalk - a similar bill had been approved in that body twice before, and even President Bush said he would sign it. But that was until Sen. Tom Coburn's ugly mug showed up on the scene.
Coburn actually voted for GINA in 2005, yet now he's placed a "hold" on the bill. Rep. Slaughter says that Coburn's excuses for his hold "don't make sense," but what makes even less sense is Harry Reid's respect for that hold.
A hold, as we well know, simply means that the senator placing it intends to (or at least claims he or she will) filibuster the bill if it's brought to the floor. The surest way to test the sincerity of such a claim is for the Majority Leader - in this case, Reid - to actually go ahead and force a vote on the bill. Seeing as the 2005 version of GINA passed by 98-0, there's no way Coburn could muster 39 other Republicans to sustain his filibuster.
So why the hell is Harry Reid honoring this sure-to-fail hold?
There is no reason that I can discern. We can't even pretend that Reid is doing this out of a too-great fealty to Senate tradition - we are all too familiar, by now, with his ugly history of ignoring holds placed by fellow Democrats, such as those placed by Ron Wyden and Chris Dodd. If Reid has no problems running roughshod over the perogatives of members of his own caucus, then surely he can disregard Coburn's abusive and senseless hold as well.
I'm not a reflexive Reid basher, but there is no justification for this. I expect the Tom Coburns of the world to be irredeemable jerks. And I expect our party's Senate Majority Leader to recognize that and govern accordingly. Reid needs to steamroll Coburn's hold immediately. Countless Americans, who wrongly are forced to live in fear of the consequences of genetic testing, deserve no less.