Monday, March 22, 2010

Victory, The Morning After

Today is wind-down day for a lot of us after cheering last night's passage of the history-making reforms of the health care system. Let's set aside all the problems with it and how "it's a good start" for a moment and take a second to savor this victory. Speaking for myself, after helping in my little way, I'm still waiting for what happened to settle in and to digest the fact that the first battle in our journey to true universal health care is in the win column.

First, the kudos: Remember when we are all so frustrated and saying that Democratic leadership was spineless and ineffective? We said Harry Reid was a jellyfish and worthless, Nancy Pelosi was all over the map and couldn't be trusted, and President Obama was so aloof that, even as we said otherwise, down in our guts we felt this was going to be a repeat of President Clinton's failed try to change our health care system. We cried out for an LBJ who would do the arm twisting needed to get this done and got so down on the whole thing that we gave aid and comfort to the far right when some of us said to kill the whole thing and start over - adding some of our numbers to the opposed poll numbers making it look like a majority of Americans didn't want this bill at all. I even considered bolting the party I'd been an active member of since 1972 and switching over to the Working Families Party to push the Democrats from the outside since all those years of pushing from the inside didn't look to be working.

Then a weird thing happened - we started winning.

Spineless Harry Reid produced a very servicable iron backbone, started killing Republican filibusters and got the health care bill passed in the Senate without losing a single vote from Senate Democrats and the two Independents. Even the hated Joe Lieberman voted with the majority on every vote. He marshalled the bill through the Senate so well that the final bill was passed with the same 60 votes he got to end the GOP filibusters, even though it wasn't necessary then. We were pleasantly surprised and started calling Reid a hero after that. Could it be that we could get this passed after all? On to the House!

Then came Massachusetts and the unthinkable happened - the seat of the late liberal lion and champion of health care reform, Edward Kennedy, was won in the special election to complete his term by a Republican. This was a double blow - first, "liberal" Massachusetts just replaced their favorite son liberal with a conservative. Second, we no longer had the numbers to kill a filibuster if the bill had to go back to the Senate for a final approval. What to do, what to do?

Solutions were offered: instead of passing one comprehensive bill, break it up and pass the pieces through the reconciliation process that only requires a majority vote. Or the House could just pass the Senate bill as is, which would pass it and send it to the President for his signature. Any fixes the House wanted could be passed as a second, separate bill.

The second approach finally prevailed then the screaming and shouting began - can Nancy get the votes in the House to do this? Liberals like Kucinich and DeFazio were threatening to vote no because it didn't do enough and a small contingent of anti-abortion Democrats threatened to do the same, believing that passing the Senate bill would mean the government would pay for abortions.

We now know the results of all that, how President Obama stepped up and Nancy Pelosi is being called a hero too. The Senate health care bill becomes the law of the land tomorrow when the President signs the bill.

So here we are. Is the bill a great piece of legislation that will fix all of our health care problems? No, it's a good first step and about every Democrat from the President on down gets that. They also understand that there would be no second step even to be considered if this hadn't passed, something that some of our friends on the left missed although I think even most of them got it when it was time for the House to vote. There was an interesting piece of news that was either missed or underreported during the run up to the House vote - an outfit called Upfront News reported on a poll that showed suddenly 51% of Americans supported passing the bill last night.

We will continue to fight the misinformed, deranged right. We still need at least a public option, we need to fix the anti-choice Nelson amendment that came along with the final bill and we need to keep pushing to finally bring to America what the rest of the industrialized world already has: an end to insurance-based health care and single payer, truly universal health care. Before all that, we need to push the Senate to pass the better House fixes and get that signed into law too. And we will.

But today, let's take a day off and enjoy the victory we fought so hard for. It took us a year to get here and we deserve it.

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