The fierce urgency of health care reform

Every day health care reform is delayed, we hear stories of insurance industry exploits.  Every day health insurance reform is delayed, more small businesses are crushed under the burden of health care costs and make the decision to drop coverage for their employees.  Every day health care reform is delayed, it's one extra day the insurance industry and their friends in Congress have to scuttle any help for Americans altogether.  Next Thursday, the President will have a summit at the White House with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders on health care reform.  I believe that it will be a true exchange of ideas - at least for the Democratic side.  The President has announced that a unified Democratic health care bill will be posted online for everyone to see on Monday.  It's a near certainty that Republicans will take no similar step.

As Ezra Klein pointed out on MSNBC on Monday, it only takes 24 hours to pass health reform should the House choose to act.  But now, it seems, something else may end up blocking this maneuver - the thing that may deal a fatal blow to health reform may well be the insistence of some activists on the left upon the resurgence of the public option and its passage in the Senate before these activists would allow the House to act.  And why not?  It's popular, the media is obsessed with it, it's great policy, and it doesn't have the votes.  2 days before the Democratic bill is to be posted online, 19 Senators have signed onto a letter asking for the public option to be included in a fix to be passed in the Senate through reconciliation.  Even if a public option is allowed under the Senate rules in reconciliation (which only allows budget-related items to pass with a majority vote), nothing has changed, and the votes are simply not there.  Once again Ezra Klein nails it in his recent column,
I've spoken to a lot of offices about this now, and all of them are ambivalent privately, even if they're supportive publicly. No one feels able to say no to this letter, but none of them seem interested in reopening the wars over the public option. That's why the White House kicked this at Reid and Reid tossed it back at the White House. If the public option is a done deal, everyone will sign on the dotted line. But between here and there is a lot of work that no one seems committed to doing, and that many fear will undermine the work being done on the rest of the bill.
No one I've spoken to -- even when they support the public option -- thinks that its reemergence is good news for health-care reform. It won't be present in the package that the White House will unveil Monday.
Ezra Klein is right.  The emergence of the idea of the public option - while nothing whatsoever has changed in terms of votes for it, pushed by those who are knowingly or unknowingly leading activists to expect something when the inevitable result is a let-down - can in fact turn out to be counterproductive.  I know it's not to be said in liberal circles.  But damnit, someone has to say it.  This is hurting the chances of health reform at this late stage.  As long as members are pushed for it without having the votes, they are forced into the very difficult position of having to vote for a reconciliation package that they get the impression is a bad package - from the left and the right.  They are forced into this position while having to take a tough vote.  At this point, the pressure on the public option seems designed to put legislators in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position.  At least it is in the short term.  And we can't wait till this dust settles to pass health care reform.  Time is running out.  Enough already.

This is the problem with us progressives.  We push for better legislation, and that's good.  But we don't appreciate our legislators when they take a tough vote.  A tough vote is when they vote to advance away from the status quo despite a poisoned political climate - poisoned by Republicans and special interest campaigning for a year against health care reform.  Poisoned by charges of government take-over of health care that is (unfairly) fueled by the public option.  And what do we do on the left?  We curse them after they pass the largest expansion of social safety net since Medicare and call them sellouts.  We call that bill worse than nothing.  We don't focus our rage on the select few who made the bill less progressive.  No.  We focus outrage on the entire Democratic caucus and the Democratic President and we call them political whores.

Well, screw that.  I'm done with that.  I am done with running around chastising our legislators when they take a tough vote on an less than perfect legislation.  Health care is hard to do.  That's why seven presidents have tried.  That's why seven have failed.  And I, for one, am not going to make our legislators feel like crap for taking tough votes.  I am not going to stand by and let people on my side of the isle accuse the President of political prostitution as he pushes for health care reform.

This has got to stop.  Pass the bill.  Pass it now.