Crunch Time For Democrats

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship.

—Barack Obama, at a news conference Feb. 9, 2010

On Thursday, February 25, the President is hosting a legislative summit on health care reform. The summit will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. You can see it streamed live from beginning to end on the White House web site. And MSNBC will broadcast a two-hour summary of the session Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. Other outlets may carry it live or in summary. If you don’t want to miss it, you won’t have to.

We’re told that the 21 senators and representatives invited to the summit will sit around a big, square table that will eliminate any semblance of hierarchy. How sweet. Am I the only one who thinks it’s time for the President to sit at the head of the table and act like the leader we asked him to be?

The people who put him in office – you, me, and millions like us, who got on the phones, knocked on doors in blasting heat and numbing cold, sent $5, $10, or $20 every time we could – have waited long enough. We’ve hoped our hopes, made our excuses, told ourselves and each other he is really smarter and braver than he has seemed to be since he moved his family into the White House.

If it turns out that he duped us, that he’s more interested in being liked than being true to the values he claimed to have, the values that drew us to him – if that happens then Barack Obama will go down in history as having driven a stake through the heart of democracy.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” he said during the campaign. His opponents tagged that statement as symptomatic of a messiah complex. If Obama had cited his source, part of the sayings of a Hopi elder, he could at once have shown his critics for what they were – obviously ignorant and apparently malicious. And he could have pointed out that what the saying means is no one is going to save us but ourselves.

“Yes we can,” he had us chanting. “No you can’t,” Congressional Republicans are shouting back, ever louder and more persuasively.

If  Obama lets us down now, if he continues to pander to those in the Republican party who want nothing more than to see him broken, emasculated, reduced to the role of a place holder for whatever nonentity the corporations that will fund the Republican Party select to defeat him in 2012, we will find ourselves living in a totalitarian state in which fear of terrorism is the dominant emotion. This will provide the excuse for repression and the triumph of the corporate state, the goal of the moneyed class that sees us as either convenient or expendable, depending on how compliant we are with their requirements.

I’ve lived enough history to know what I’m talking about. I know what mass heartbreak and the loss of hope do to human societies. It could happen here.

It’s crunch time for Obama and the legislative Democrats. Lose on health-care reform and we’ll have lost more than we as a nation can afford.

I see the next few weeks as Barack Obama’s last chance to show us that he’s made of more than ambition and a great vocabulary. Victory, in the form of a robust health-care reform law, is within reach. All the President and the Democrats in Congress have to do is stop being scared of their shadows and act like the majority party.

The key to success is embodied in a single word: reconciliation. In this context, it’s a technical term having to do with a congressional procedure. It has nothing to do with getting Democrats and Republicans to sit around a campfire singing “Kumbaya.” That kind of reconciliation is not going to happen any time soon, but there might be some accommodation if the President reminded Republican politicians that a majority of Americans chose his expressed values, and not theirs – if he stopped acting like a little boy allowed to sit at the table with the grownups, but not to take part in the conversation.

In Congressional terms, reconciliation has to do with resolving differences between legislation adopted by the House of Representatives on the one hand, and the Senate on the other. It refers specifically to matters pertaining to the government’s fiscal status. There can be no debate about whether the future of health care in America will have an impact on the nation’s budget and the national debt.

Forget for a moment the 50,000-some people who die each year because they lack adequate insurance to pay for medical care. Forget the people, parents mostly, who cling to dead-end jobs they hate because they don’t dare try for something better; they might lose their family’s (at least partially) employer-paid health insurance. Or, if you prefer, just think of those people as indentured servants to those with the power to let them go and their children go doctorless if they step out of line. Forget the people who’ve lost their health insurance because they’ve been laid off. Forget the people who won’t ever find another job, not because they’re incompetent or lazy, not even because of the economy, but because they have a condition such as diabetes that will make them uninsurable and, therefore, unattractive as an employee because even group insurance rates go up if people need medical care.

Instead, remember that out-of-control health care costs, regardless of who pays them, bid fair to cripple our economy forever. No other industrialized country abandons its people to the avarice of the health care industry; none makes employers bear the burden of covering people’s medical bills. Our insane insistence on employer-based health insurance puts this country at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

Yes, health care is definitely tied to our national finances, so reconciliation is a valid option in passing health-care reform legislation.

Reconciliation allows bills pertaining to taxation and spending to be passed by a majority of legislators – that would be the Democrats – without the obstruction of those who will not otherwise allow urgent legislation to come to a vote in the Senate.

Without invoking reconciliation, 41 politicians, less than half of the 100-member Senate, can overwhelm the will of the majority. That’s tyranny. With reconciliation, majority rule wins. That’s democracy.

In his blog essay on reconciliation, Bob Reich refutes the five reasons he’s heard from his contacts on Capitol Hill arguing against reconciliation.

1.    Reconciliation is too extreme a measure to use on a piece of legislation so important. I hear this a lot but it’s bunk.

George W. Bush used reconciliation to pass tax cuts for the rich twice, and to fund Medicare Advantage, which he hoped would lead to privatization of Medicare.  In all, his administration used reconciliation five times, none of which enhanced your financial interests by as much as a nickel.

Reich continues:

2.   Use of reconciliation would infuriate Senate Republicans. It may. So what? They haven’t given Obama a single vote on any major issue since he first began wining and dining them at the White House. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and company have been doing everything in their power to undermine the President. [….] Obama could credibly argue that Senate Republicans have altered the rules of the Senate by demanding 60 votes on almost every initiative – a far more extensive use of the filibuster than at any time in modern history – so it’s only right that he, the President, now resort to reconciliation.

Sure, the Republicans will express outrage and call the use of reconciliation high-handed, or worse. Some tall man with the posture of an athlete should then stand up and ask where was their outrage when the shoe was on the other foot.

Reich’s last three reasons – the ones he’s heard on the hill – are here for you to read. He demolishes every one and says if the Democrats show themselves fearful of taking this step,

Obama ought to be banging Senate heads together. A president has huge bargaining leverage because he presides over an almost infinite list of future deals. Lyndon Johnson wasn’t afraid to use his power to the fullest to get Medicare enacted.

Last Monday the President released his proposals, so that Republicans can come to the summit prepared to counter them with the GOP’s alternatives. They are in the report linked here.

You’ll notice there’s no mention of a publicly-managed insurance option. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible under reconciliation – it is, either as the public option the majority of Democrats, independents, and even Republican voters favor, or as a provision allowing people younger than 65 to pay an insurance premium to buy into Medicare.

Obama originally campaigned on a platform that included health insurance for everyone. No surprise, the no-sayers shot back branding Obama as a socialist. Instead of asking what’s wrong with socialism, Obama accepted without question the capitalist view of social economics – the right of the privileged few to control resources and exploit the non-privileged.

Here, Mr. Obama, is as impartial a description of the socialist viewpoint as you can get:

Most socialists share the view that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation, creates an unequal society, does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximise their potential, and does not utilise technology and resources to their maximum potential nor in the interests of the public.

Tell us, sir:  Does that meet your definition of evil? Do you really prefer to preside over a society that lets people die because they can’t afford to get medical help? Are you proud of America’s rank in the world in terms of health care quality? (37th) Infant mortality? (45th) Life expectancy at birth? (49th)

Where is the candidate Obama who ran on the premise that America is a place where people look after one another because that is the right thing to do? Where are the ethics? Where is the courage? Where is the man we voted for, the one we chose as our leader?

I’m not one of those press people who promote disappointment and disrespect because the President hasn’t accomplished, in his first year, everything he promised. But making people with preexisting medical conditions go without insurance for another four years, as Obama’s proposal does, strikes me as an outright lack of caring.

Mr. President, you can count me as part of the majority of Americans who want more, who want better, and who want it now. We worked hard to form this majority. We will continue to insist that you do not squander it. And if you do, when you need us next, you will look for us in vain, for we will have moved on.

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2 Responses to “Crunch Time For Democrats”

  1. hey this blog is great. say it like it is. we want change. we want change now. not later.

  2. agree with comment.

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