The Democratic party is closing in on being on the right side of history with its upcoming vote on health care reform. It would be better if we could say Congress will be on the right side of history, but the way things have played out, the Republicans in the House and Senate have sat on their collective hands during the debate on the most significant piece of domestic legislation since the New Deal.
Make no mistake: despite the Republican sit-out, the bill is no cause for celebration for liberals. Those on the left edges of the Democratic party are some of the last few votes being courted. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), one of the party’s leading liberal voices, reluctantly came aboard this week.
The final bill is one that – minus purely partisan politics – many Republicans should be able to embrace:
- It not only preserves America’s private health insurance system, but brings 35 million new customers to it;
- It reduces the deficit more than $130 billion in the first ten years, and more than $1 trillion the following decade;
- It ensures that Americans no longer have to fear personal bankruptcy as the result of medical bills;
- It provides the most significant tax relief to the middle class in more than a decade.
It would be nice to see a few brave, independent Republicans join in on this historic vote. But the two parties are as far apart in style as they are in substance. The Republican Congressional leadership maintains a lock-step discipline over its members and vote as a block. Wrangling Democratic Congressmen is akin to herding cats, but as frustrating as that may be for the leadership it sure looks more like democracy (with a small “d”) to us.
Many progressives are frustrated with President Obama’s handling of the whole health care debate. Many progressives painted their own individual hopes on the nearly blank slate that Obama appeared to be during his Presidential campaign. Instead, Obama has turned out to be the moderate, post-partisan figure his speeches promised him to be.
And with health reform, Obama hit it right down the center.
Time and time again, during this debate, Obama has reached across the aisle in an attempt to bring Republicans into the process, incorporating many of their ideas even without gaining their support. The refrain from House Republican leader John Boehner has been only to “scrap” the legislation and “start over,” while offering few or no ideas on how to produce a better bill.
Boehner and his counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, have already pledged to make repeal of the legislation the centerpiece of this year’s congressional campaigns. The impetus appears to be simply politics, not substance, and is a sad commentary on the party’s current state of affairs.
The far left see this bill as an imperfect first step towards solving America’s health care problems. Republicans see it as a football they must stop from advancing down the field. The coalition of various factions in the Democratic Party that have done the heavy work of getting us to this point see it as essential in righting a societal wrong and bringing the country back toward financial security.
A sobering fact is that America’s health care is ranked the expensive in the world but only #37 in quality. If this bill delivers even half of its promise, the history books will mark its passage as one of the most important legislative actions ever taken.