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A long, long time ago in a Congressional session long since adjourned, three Committees of the House- Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor- voted on the bill that would become H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Subsequently, way back on November 7, the whole House approved H.R. 3962, 220-215.
Then it was the Senate’s turn. Two committees, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Finance, produced radically different bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was left with two monumental tasks: reconcile the bills to send to the Senate floor and produce 60 votes in a chamber governed by the tyranny of the minority, wielding the filibuster. On Christmas Eve, the Senate voted to approve H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, breaking every possible Republican filibuster along the way, 60-39.
At long last, the faithful trip is done a long way from over.We can list the differences between the final versions. Only some are enumerated here. On the road to final passage, there are two choices: to “ping-pong” the Senate bill, passing it “as-is” in the House and bypassing the Conference Committee; or to go to conference between the House and Senate, and repeat this whole process.
This effort has come too far to be abandoned now. Progressives cannot ditch the bill because it has strayed too far from the perfect. It remains a good bill; it is unacceptable for the status quo to continue. No one denies that there is room for improvement; but we must remember that all of the landmark progressive reforms were deeply marked by compromise. Social Security did not cover African-Americans and excluded many occupations. Medicare did not embody the goals that are now associated with it. In time they did. In time, today’s health care reform will become a robust program and meet the dream of guaranteeing that every American has access to quality, affordable health care.
The possibilities of a bipartisan (insert issue) bill are slim. In fact, they never really existed. Yet the marginal Democrats (I’m looking at you, Senator Nelson) continue to go around and proclaim that new legislation that doesn’t have a super-duper supermajority, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 votes in the Senate, is not legitimate.
Bipartisanship is a virtue to strive for, but at what cost? In my last post, I chastised Democrats for failing to get their acts together, defend their values, and stop arguing with themselves. This time, it’s something more malevolent in the system. The Republicans are trying to barter their way to favorable public policy outcomes. Note: I did not say palatable, I didn’t even say tolerable, nor did I say compromise-that-reflects-their-relative-strength; I said favorable.
How does this work? How do 40 GOP Senators and 178 GOP Congressmen barter their way to favorable policies? By pledging support for ideas, then moving the goal posts. In many ways, this is a Peanuts strip. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she’ll hold the football for him to kick, and Charlie Brown’s been duped before and is reluctant to try try again. But, Lucy convinces him that “This time, she means it.” So, Charlie gives in and takes a run at the football. Lucy, true to form, pulls it away at the last second and Charlie careens by.
The Republicans make the right noises and say the right things, indicating that they would support a (insert issue) bill if it had certain provisions. Reasonable? Yes. It’s the art of compromising. Senators will transcend party, work ideas from both sides of the aisle into the bill, then a broad, bipartisan coalition will support the bill. Right?
Wrong. At the last minute, after the Democrats have agreed to incorporate Republican ideas, the Republicans pull the football away. They proclaim, “We never liked those ideas. We like these over here instead. If you give us those, we’ll support the bill.” Just like Lucy, the Republicans taunt Charlie Brown again, saying that THIS TIME, they’ll let him kick the football.
Now: “[T]here are other points as well, but let me mention other points that you didn’t mention. And one would be the individual mandate, which for the first time would have a federal penalty against people who don’t have health insurance…. I’m very reluctant to go along with an individual mandate.”October6, 2009.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky:
“But the core point is this: At the end of the day, if the government plan is either in the bill or out of the bill, whether they will be able to argue successfully or not whether tax funds are gonna be provided for abortion, whether or not they will be able to argue at the end that dollars for health care for illegals is in or out, what we do know is what the core of the bill is going to look like. We know that for sure,” he said.
And the bottom line, said McConnell, is that Republicans don’t like the bill at all.
“It’s going to be a trillion dollar bill,” said McConnell. President Obama has said he won’t sign any bill that exceeds $900 billion over ten years, but what’s a few billion?
“We know it’s going to have half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. We know it’s going to raise taxes on individuals and business. So however these other issues are resolved, the core of the bill is a trillion dollar government attempt to take over one-sixth of the economy, which slashes Medicare by half a trillion dollars, and raises taxes on most Americans,” he said. September 30, 2009.
“Chuck Todd asked Grassley whether he’d vote for the bill if it was a good piece of policy that he’d crafted but that couldn’t attract more than a handful of Republican votes. “Certainly not,” replied Grassley. Todd tried again, clarifying that this was legislation Grassley liked, and thought would move the ball forward, but was getting bogged down due to partisanship. Grassley held firm. If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued.Grassley, in other words, is working backward from the votes. If the Gang of Six reaches a compromise that the Senate Republicans don’t support, Grassley will abandon that compromise, regardless of the fact that he’s the guy who built it. The Gang of Six, in other words, falls apart if it can’t assure a vote of 76. Since it seems virtually impossible that such a vote will manifest, it seems similarly unlikely that Grassley will sign his name to the final bill. And Grassley, remember, was willing to say all this publicly. His version of bipartisanship is strikingly partisan.” August 17, 2009.
Senator Jon Kyl, R-Arizona: “This is a stunning assault on liberty” and Senator Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky: These provisions trample on the feedoms of Americans.” September 22, 2009. Both of these esteemed gentlemen ARE on the Finance Committee.
At the end of the day, what it comes down to is that the Republicans are (a) determined to water down and dilute any Democratic efforts at reform, (b) unwilling to lend support to any bill that does not completely reflect their views and any noises of bipartisan compromise are only misleading, ephemeral goalposts, and (c) going to vote no.
Today, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, when asked about how the health care bill will fair in Congress, stated that every Democrat will vote for the bill and at least one Republican will vote for it as well. In the midst of negotiations to try to satisfy liberal Democrats without bothering moderates, these words of confidence give a reason for all people in this country to be happy. It appears that an overhaul of the current health care system is on the horizon.
With ongoing political drama, town hall debates that brought out thousands of far right lunatics (to put it mildly), and a health care system that continues to cost more for consumers and provide less care, this statement allows me to take a large sigh of relief. Whether there will be enough senators to support this bill has been a topic of discussion in recent weeks, despite the Democrats control of the senate. With moderate Democrats worried about the cost of the bill, a word of confidence from the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that these moderates will, in the end, support the bill, is a very relieving thought.
The need for an overhaul of the current health care system goes beyond simply becoming cost efficient and removing the astronomical profits that insurance companies make (although these are perfectly reasonable reasons as well…). It is my personal belief that health care, the act of protecting citizens from diseases and illnesses, is a moral responsibility that the government has. Just as it is the government’s responsibility to provide an army to defend the citizens of the United States, the act of protecting citizens from a fatal illness is something that the government must do as well. With at least 15% of the population in our country completely uninsured, and endless more not getting enough care for their specific medical conditions, the government is not carrying out their responsibility.
Simply put, the current health care system is acting in a way that is morally and ethically wrong. Millions of people today who do not have the necessary treatment for their illnesses will have it in the new system. Beyond all else, this is enough of a reason to change the way health care is run.
Andrew Coleman is a blogger for the Cornell Democrats.
By now all of us have seen the President’s address to Congress from Wednesday (for those of you who haven’t, it’s on c-span.org) and heard the outburst of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), in which he called President Obama a liar after the President stated that the health care reform bill would not cover illegal immigrants. My initial reaction to Rep. Wilson’s verbal assault was one of disgust – how dare this back-bencher interrupt our President as he was presenting his plan to deal with one of the foremost social and economic problems our country has faced in recent years. It was a flagrant breach of Congressional etiquette and has resulted in calls by some on the Democratic side of the House for Wilson to be formally censured.
However, as I thought more about it, I realized that Rep. Wilson’s eruption had actually helped the President and the health care reform movement significantly. For one, it provided the President a great opportunity to appear in control – his glare in Rep. Wilson’s direction is an image for the ages. More than that though, it encapsulated the nature of the debate that has been occurring across the nation during the summer, in which otherwise constructive town hall meetings have been disrupted by hecklers and protesters shouting false and misinformed slogans, accusing pro-reform Congressmen of being Nazis, and so on. As a result, it showed many Americans the absurdity of the Republicans’ claims – especially as Rep. Wilson’s assertion that the President was lying was widely and immediately refuted. Moreover, the outburst served to underline an important point – that the Republicans will not listen to reason or even acknowledge clear facts in the health care debate. As such, trying to win them over seems more and more to be a lost cause. When elected officials like Rep. Wilson deny facts – because, remember, his shout at the President was not an assertion of opinion, which can be debated, but established fact – we can see clearly that they have no interest in anything aside from obstruction. As an interesting side fact about the Representative from South Carolina, he has stated that he believes illegal immigrants should not be able to receive emergency room care – essentially, that if they are grievously injured they should die. It speaks volumes about the radical opinions of the Republican base that despite such views he has been re-elected to his seat four times.
Of course, as in any such circumstance, conservative talk radio commentators and pundits have rallied to Wilson’s cause, which simply further strengthens my view that health care reform must be passed with or (preferably, because it will result in fewer bad compromises) without the Republicans. Hopefully this incident will make all Democrats, progressives, socialists and liberals realize that although the current plan may not be perfect, in the face of such strong opposition, we need to pass the best plan that we can – but do it quickly as well, for every day we waste arguing over small details is one day that Americans do not have the protection they need from insurance companies and the health care safety net (the public option) that every human has the right to. The Republican response to the President’s speech was borderline comical – Representative Boustany (R-LA) stuck to his talking points and repeated the same tired arguments about “government-run medicine” that we’ve heard for years. More importantly, he failed to propose any plans that would actually make a difference. The only real proposal he made – the creation of health care “co-ops” to allow large groups to purchase coverage at lower rates – is already in the bill. Objectively, the President won on Wednesday. However, unless we get behind reform, all his efforts – and Joe Wilson’s – will be for naught.
Ben Schneider ‘13 is a blogger for the Cornell Democrats.