Monday, August 31, 2009

"Kill The Bill"

Listening to C-SPAN Radio today (yes, I know, I am that odd), I heard an interesting chant behind a Republican health care town hall in Louisiana. The audience was chanting "Kill The Bill." Shortly thereafter, one of the elected representatives there told an anecdote about how evil England's socialized medicine system is. For the record, the attendees included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisana), and Rep.Rodney Alexander (R-Louisiana), which is why I characterized this as a "Republican" health care town hall.

The reason this chant surprised me is that there isn't yet a "bill" to "kill." As has been widely reported, there are three or four different bills currently under consideration, with as many alternatives waiting in the wings but not actively being considered. This is the reason that "Kill The Bill," like so many slogans opposing health reform, is both illogical and misinformed. People are screaming opposition to things that are not there and fearing outcomes that are not rational.

Much of the health reform news today is about the people advocating for a "do over." Republicans like Orrin Hatch have been trying to define Sen. Kennedy's legacy as one of compromise, rather than combative effectiveness. (Sen. Kennedy can define his own legacy, thank you very much.) Under this theory, Democrats, who are on the verge of success, should now step back and reaffirm their faith in bipartisanship by turning over the reins of legislation to people like Mike Enzi, who counts delaying compromise his greatest accomplishment. We should call a "do over" of this process because it's not bipartisan. That's like saying the Yankees should restart a game from the beginning even though they're winning 10-1 because the Red Sox refuse to take the field in the bottom of the 9th.

Furthermore, we are told to heed the words of former Senator Bob Dole, who tells the Democrats to start over. Nevermind the fact that Bob Dole was one of the architects of health care obstructionism during the 1994 debates, and personally benefitted from that obstruction, becoming Majority Leader in 1995 and then the Republican nominee for President. His own experience shows the benefits Republicans gain from delay and obstruction, and we're supposed to listen to his advice as if it were given from the goodness of his heart. Maybe if he had won the 1996 election, he would have some standing to give advice to a man who won the 2008 election. As things stand, I hope President Obama keeps his own counsel.

It is interesting to see the mainline criticisms from the Republicans shift from "death panels" to "do overs." It means we are winning. In the Senate, we have 45 declared "yes" votes for the public option, and quite probably 5-10 more "yes" votes who won't declare until it is clear there is a bill for the voting. Remember, as yet there is no one bill for Senators to support or oppose unless they are themselves on one of the committees looking at bills. In the past six weeks, the debate has shifted and we have gained the momentum. Most people want the public option, and it is increasingly clear that there will be health care reform this year.

The Republican leadership may be wrong, but they're not stupid. They know the only way to derail reform now is to "start over." The paeans to "bipartisanship" and "starting from scratch" we hear are simply dilution and obstruction in newer, even more desperate language. The other side knows that if the Democrats win this fight we will secure a legacy for our party and our President. They know that it is their constituents who will benefit the most for true health care reform, and that is frightening because those voters might notice that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who got it done. This is not President Obama's Waterloo, it is theirs.

We must keep up the energy, keep up the effort, and keep up the pressure. We are in the final lap of a long race, a race begun by Harry Truman sixty-four years ago and ran by liberals, progressives and the Democratic party since then. The baton has been passed from generation to generation, from Medicare and Medicaid to SCHIP to the public option. It is up to us to run our leg and advance our cause. Do not confuse the Republican hand as one put out to help, it is there to pull us back, lest we achieve that which they would not. The finish line is in sight. It is ours if we will but chase it.

P.S. There's a link in there to a Newsweek article, "The Death Of Conservatism" that is really worth the read if you click through nothing else.

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