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Dodd: Both parties 'arrogant' on health care bill

From NBC's Ken Strickland and Carrie Dann

“Schoolhouse Rock,” it ain’t.

The man who shepherded two of the Obama administration’s top agenda items to Senate passage says that both parties were “arrogant and selfish” during the process of writing the mammoth health care bill signed into law earlier this year.

“The textbook in a civics class of how the institution should not act was the health care bill,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., during an interview with NBC News. “It was arrogant. Both parties were arrogant and selfish, in my view. And as a result we ended up with a process that was so contradictory to what you'd like to think your kids in middle school [and] high school might learn.”

Dodd chaired both the Senate Banking Committee and served as the acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee after Sen. Ted Kennedy fell ill.

The sweeping reform bill’s victory was a “good result,” the retiring senator said, but the course of the bill’s passage was particularly flawed -- especially in contrast to the (comparatively) more transparent one used to approve an equally complex overhaul of the nation’s financial system.

“There, we went through a very open process all the way through – it was almost textbook,” he said of the “FinReg” reforms, which passed on a mostly party-line vote of 60-39 in July.

The health care bill was not subject to conference negotiations between House and Senate leaders like many major pieces of legislation; instead, its final passage was the result of Democrats’ deployment of an obscure legislative tactic called “reconciliation,” which requires only 50 votes for passage. The legislation to tighten regulations on the financial industry, on the other hand, was subject to a marathon negotiating session that was broadcast live on CSPAN. (It is important to note, though, that many key compromises in the bill were nonetheless negotiated behind closed doors, and industry lobbyists benefitted from close relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.)

Public approval of the health care bill hit new lows during the legislative sausage-making phase, with particular outcry about a state carve out – dubbed the “Cornhusker Kickback” – inserted into the bill to win support from Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Nelson’s approval rating in his home state plummeted after the deal was publicized in December 2009. Between June 2008 and March 2010, Democrats’ advantage over the GOP on the issue of dealing with health care swung from almost 30 points down to single digits, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Although both bills represented a choice that will ultimately benefit the country, Dodd said, the health care legislation was a long way from the classic kids’ tune featuring a weary but determined bill “sittin’ here on Capitol Hill.”

“Again, I think the result [was] the right result to get. But boy, it was an ugly process,” he said.