The compromise healthcare reform bill (or as I have taken to calling it, the compromise"d" healthcare reform bill) is not everything I would like. In fact, the provision that I felt was the most important to holding down costs, a public option that was not-for-profit to compete with private for-profit insurance companies, was excised from the bill. That was a bitter pill for me to swallow. Other things are being cut for the sake of getting the bill passed through the Senate, surely things that some reading this liked as much as I liked the public option. I am here to tell you that we have arrived at the point where we choose to accept a watered-down version of healthcare reform or to destroy the very idea of reform ourselves because it is our idea and it has been mangled beyond our own recognition. I am also here to tell you that we absolutely must accept it.
Do not fool yourself into thinking, reader, that I am not dismayed at what is happening in the Senate to the bill. I am. That Joe Lieberman can flout the Democratic Party and a majority of Americans by withholding his procedural vote to shut up filibustering Republicans attempting to kill an up-or-down vote until the government is totally removed from any role in providing health insurance makes me nauseous. Beyond nauseous actually, it makes me angry. But, unfortunately, it also is what it is and that is unavoidable. Lieberman and Nelson are the only votes left available to the Democrats to avoid Republicans blocking all advancement of the bill. Every single moderate Republican in the chamber has shown that they cannot be trusted to vote in favor of their constituents' best interests. Olympia Snowe had flirted with giving the bill her vote so long as the public option was a last resort. Curiously, it is no longer a resort at all and here Snowe stands with other Republicans voting against cloture so those Republican colleagues of her's can talk through the New Year to prevent a vote on healthcare reform.
I was thinking that scuttling the bill might be the best route since opponents of true reform have managed to distort and malign it. But then I realized that those of us in favor of true reform giving up on the bill and withdrawing our support would be an even more resounding victory for them than watering down the bill before it becomes law. Just as with all great changes in American society, this has its detractors and implacable foes and this also cannot be done in one simple bold stroke. The built-in opposition to such a bold stroke is too strong right now. Our current fight is like that of FDR working to change our society. FDR wanted government insurance but did not get it. However, he did get Social Security for the elderly and then, thirty years later, LBJ got a measure of government insurance by passing Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor. Medicare and Medicaid, however, would not have been possible if FDR had not paved the way with Social Security. Just passing part of this bill truly disappoints us, but the political reality is that the parts of this bill we are passing will whet the American people's appetite for the advancements we wanted in the bill that were cut out. Greater government regulation of insurance companies, expanded coverage for the uninsured and the banning of unethical practices by insurance companies like not offering coverage because of pre-existing conditions will, contrary to Republican belief, go over well with the public and make them far more receptive to things like the public option when the Democrats go back to the well the second time. The arc of time is on our side.
There is also a political component to this fight. During the fight to pass civil rights legislation there was a House member named Howard Smith from Virginia who was nicknamed "Judge Smith." Smith was the chairman of the Rules Committee in the House and could singlehandedly block civil rights legislation by manipulating rules about quorum and a number of other things. At one point he disappeared so that the Rules Committee could not meet and since they could not meet they could not advance the civil rights legislation to the full House. Smith eventually lost his fight to block civil rights legislation and his seat in Congress as well. Time erodes opponents to progressive policy ideas. Joe Lieberman, the man reviled by many in the Democratic Party because he seems to be a Republican that caucuses with Democrats for political gain, was at one point within 537 votes of being the Vice President of the United States. However, in the intervening eight years he has managed to marginalize himself through his steadfast support of George W. Bush and then John McCain, the opponent of President Obama in the last election. If there is one thing we can take from this that is a relief, it is that either through more Democrats winning Senate seats or some Republicans coming to support a popular Democratic policy, his "gun to the head" threat that he will not vote to stop a filibuster will become useless and he will not be a powerbroker in the next healthcare debate. The arc of time is on our side.
So, by all means be bitter about how the bill turned out. I'm not pleased. But I urge you to push for its passage and then return to agitating for a public option. Help candidates that are running to replace senators like the Republicans who support a filibuster or Lieberman who radically alter the bill with their single vote. Vote for them. Get others to vote for them. Tout the advantages that were created by this bill. But for God's sake, don't pull your support now. This is the most difficult obstacle to climb. Once this passes and the public gets a good sampling of what it does to the healthcare industry, going back the second time to pass a public option among other things will be so much easier and we that supported the truly progressive form of this bill from the beginning will have achieved what we wanted and the price was just patience and persistence.