Dennis Kucinich held out a lot longer than we did. The Congress member from Ohio opposed health-insurance reform all the way up until a week ago, when he was finally persuaded that the bill's defeat would give the Republican Party a gale-force wind beneath its sails heading into this fall's midterm elections and possibly sink President Obama's ship in 2012.
Offering such gifts to the Republicans would be akin to giving a bratty child a new video game every time he threw a hysterical tantrum at a restaurant table.
No, the package of bills passed by the House of Representatives Sunday night don't amount to the sweeping healthcare overhaul we and Kucinich dreamed about after voters gave Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The new reality continues the insurance industry's stranglehold on healthcare when what many of us wanted was the abolishment of health insurance altogether. It rewards the insurance industry for its past abuses by providing millions of new customers on a silver platter. It continues a system in which private businesses bear the often-crushing responsibility of ensuring the physical wellbeing of their employees when what many of us wanted was for the government to take that burden—as it does for education and public safety, as well as healthcare for the poor and the elderly—and let companies focus their resources on their products or services.
But all it took for us to support this “reform” was a simple change in expectations. Sweeping healthcare overhaul was a pipedream before the debate even started, and significant reform was laid to rest when conservative Democrats balked at the so-called public option that could have served as a pilot program to show that government-run insurance could provide basic preventative care more cheaply than private insurance. We just needed to embrace the incremental change that this package achieves. Indeed, despite the continuation of a deeply flawed system, the system will at least be somewhat better when reform begins to take effect than it is today.
Liberal holdouts may argue that essentially solidifying the status quo does irreparable damage to any chance of truly reforming the system in the relatively near future. Maybe so. But perhaps they can find a glimmer of hope in a piece written by Slate's Timothy Noah, in which he compares an obscure piece of the healthcare legislation—removing private banks from the student-loan system—with the effort to reform healthcare. If the country can warm up, through incremental change, to elbowing the private sector out of student loans, because the government can do it more cheaply and efficiently, can the country not also eventually warm up to elbowing private insurance out of healthcare for the same reasons?
In any case, even if you can't find solace through lowered expectations, handing the Republicans a huge policy defeat should have been reason enough to be exultant when C-SPAN showed the “Yea” column switching from 215 to 216 on Sunday.
The GOP behaved abominably throughout the process, waging a disinformation campaign about what the legislation would do—create death panels, sever the relationship between you and your beloved family doctor—abusing the Senate's filibuster process and egging on and helping legitimize the nation's lunatic right-wing fringe. Along the way, Republicans were laughably hypocritical—for example, they whined incessantly about adding to the deficit even though they had no problem with two rounds of Bush tax cuts and the Medicare drug benefit, which together, as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reminded last week, added more than $2 trillion to the deficit. (If it's enacted in full, the healthcare bill will cut the deficit by $138 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)
Unanimous opposition to any effort to repair what is almost universally considered a broken system is irrefutable evidence that the Republican Party's strategy all along was to stand in the way of a major policy achievement on which the Democrats could campaign and build on the momentum that began when voters realized the GOP has no domestic agenda of their own, other than to consolidate more and more wealth at the tippy-top of the socioeconomic totem pole.
Gee, the more we think about, it the happier we are with the Democrats' victory.
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