A couple of months ago, it looked like the campaign for genuine healthcare reform—one that included a government-run insurance plan to compete with private plans—was going to end in disaster. But beginning with the narrow passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill that contained a government plan, things started looking up, despite the last-minute inclusion of a provision that would restrict access to abortions.
Now comes news that the pharmaceutical industry has jacked up prices for drugs by 9 percent in the last year to offset the $8 billion in annual price concessions the industry promised President Obama as part of health reform—just another reason Majority Leader Harry Reid must charge into battle in the U.S. Senate armed with a bill containing a robust public option as a counterbalance to profit-drunk drug and insurance companies.
Liberals have been making concessions from the beginning, starting with giving up on the notion of a national healthcare system (true reform) before debate even began. The Senate Finance Committee didn't even include a government plan in its stab at a bill. Last month, Reid endorsed a watered-down government plan in which states could opt out of it, meaning access to a competitive option would depend on where one lives.
But now liberals seem to be hardening their spines just in the nick of time. It was so heartening to hear Diana DeGette, the Congress member from Colorado, say she has 40 votes ready to oppose any bill that chips away at abortion services. And we're pleased to hear Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa talk about forcing Joe Lieberman and Co. into a traditional filibuster, in which all senators must remain present and the filibusterers have to stay on the floor and talk on and on, 24 hours a day, rather than simply invoking a modern filibuster, killing the bill and calling it a day. Reid has the power to require a traditional filibuster, and he should do so. That's what happened in 1957 when Sen. Strom Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act—the Senate majority leader refused to bring any new business to the floor until Thurmond ceased his random rambling (24 hours later). Let Lieberman and the Republicans talk for as long as they can. Let the American public listen to them read from the Bible or My Pet Goat or talk about their grandmas' biscuit recipes—as Thurmond did—for weeks on end if necessary.
The word “filibuster” means “pirate”—as in a pirate in a three-piece suit hijacking a public-policy debate. Senate rules allow it, but why must we make it so easy for the pirates. Make them work for their piracy. Outlast them. Beat them. Don't let Lieberman kill genuine healthcare reform just to settle a political score with the Democrats and then head home for a nice Thanksgiving dinner. Make him sit there in chambers and think about what he's done. Make it hurt.
Affordable preventative healthcare is slipping through the grasp of more and more Americans all the time. Even after an obscene right-wing misinformation campaign this past summer and fall, the public still favors universal care and a government option. A majority of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate favor universal care and a government option. The president favors universal care and a government option. And yet, here we are, facing the possibility of not getting it because of a procedural rule that allows the minority to make things difficult for the majority.
It's tempting to believe that Republicans are concerned about cost, but they have no credibility. They uttered nary a peep about the federal deficit when they were voting to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and to approve tax cuts while avoiding spending reductions, the necessary companion to tax cuts. No, it's all about hypocritical (Medicare, the VA) ideological opposition to government involvement in healthcare, and it's about maximizing private-sector profits to ensure that the lawmaker-lobbyist-donor machine keeps pumping out the campaign contributions in preservation of the status quo.
The bills on the table are far from perfect, but they're all we can hope for at this stage. Please e-mail Sen. Reid (www.reid.senate.gov, click “contact”) and urge him to require a traditional filibuster on healthcare reform.