On health care, just win

Pub date September 8, 2009
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL This could very well be the pivotal moment in Barack Obama’s presidency. If he loses on health care reform — or worse, if he caves in to right-wing bullying tactics and abandons a strong public option — then not only will the American people and economy suffer, but Obama will have hobbled his ability to effectively address the myriad problems facing this country.

The time for negotiating with Republicans on health care is over. They have proven to be hostile and irrational obstructionists interested only in sabotaging both Obama and health care reform, repeatedly telling lies to incite anger and fear in the populace. Beyond being irresponsible, they have abandoned their role as good-faith participants in the political process.

Even when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested on Aug. 16 that private co-ops might be an acceptable alternative to the public plan — a tactical and policy mistake that understandably outraged progressives — Republicans refused to come back to the bargaining table.

With that gesture, Republicans showed that their overheated denunciations of the public option were simply a political ploy. They will scream "socialized medicine" on behalf of insurance companies no matter what is in this reform package, so Obama and the Democrats need to ignore them, develop the strongest possible plan, and do whatever it takes to get it through Congress this fall, even when that means stretching procedural rules to require only a bare majority vote for the most controversial elements.

The Democrats have already compromised enough. As the Guardian has said ("It’s the insurance companies, stupid," 7/22/09), a single-payer system is the only reform that will bring the cost savings this country (and its residents and businesses) desperately needs. Democrats were foolish to abandon that so early, a decision that emboldened conservatives and insurance industry shills in both parties and led to the current standoff.

So if Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are right that starting over on health care reform would cause the moment of possibility to be lost — and we aren’t sure they’re right, although we understand the point — then they need to get tough and push through their plan without letting it get watered down any more.

Despite the over-amplification of right-wing talking points, the political winds have shifted in this country. Progressives are ascendant and they expect fundamental reforms. Pelosi (to her credit) acknowledged as much in August when she said that health reform bill without a strong public option wouldn’t be approved by the House.

That’s because the House Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Lynn Woolsey from Petaluma, now has more members than the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, 81 to 52. It’s not the 1990s anymore, when then-President Bill Clinton felt he had to compromise with the emerging right wing to get anything done. Now Democrats finally need to acknowledge progressives and enlist their help in moving a bold reform agenda.

Today, the Republicans have been thoroughly discredited, but the Democratic Party is its own worst enemy. The people who gave the Democrats substantially congressional majorities expect action, and if the Democrats can’t toughen up and deliver, this country is headed for a real political crisis that could easily spin out of control.

Obama and Pelosi need to seize the moment and pass a health reform bill that includes a robust public option and explicitly allows states like California to experiment with single-payer systems, which is the only system that will truly hold down health care costs and drive a stake through the heart of the insurance industry, which is ruining not just the health care system, but the political system as well. *