Monday, December 21, 2009

More Health Care Musings

Let's be completely honest with ourselves here: the Senate version of health care reform sucks. Whether that's the fault of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the Obama administration or any number of other factors is up for debate -- and somewhat pointless now.

The bill cleared a major hurdle early Monday morning with a 60-40 vote that split along party lines. Two more such votes are expected before the bill would be able to move forward for conference negotiations with the House of Representatives.

There is no public option in the Senate bill, nor is there a Medicare buy-in option for Americans aged 55 or older. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) made sure stricter anti-choice language was included in the bill -- all of these moves essentially showcased just how ineffective the Senate really is, and how one or two disgruntled and self-serving Senators can almost derail any piece of major legislation.

So what we're left with is a bill that requires Americans to buy insurance, offers subsidies for citizens who can't afford coverage of their own and puts in place insurance industry regulations that might be easily circumvented. A lot of progressive voices -- including former DNC chair Howard Dean -- have called for the bill to be killed, and while part of me has agreed (I've been a loud public option advocate from the beginning), I realize this isn't the final version.

Even with the progressive cry of "Kill the bill!," not one Democrat voted against the bill on Monday. But I've got my own theory with regards to that.

When Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for the health care reform bill that came out of the Senate Finance Committee back in September, she wasn't necessarily voting for the bill. In all actuality, Snowe was voting simply to move the process forward; when she cast her vote, she said she was voting to bring the bill to the full Senate, and that her vote then wouldn't influence her vote now.

For those of you keeping score, Snowe voted against the bill on Monday.

Maybe progressives in the Senate are doing the same thing; maybe they were simply voting for the bill not because they liked it, but because they knew it would move the process along. Progressives are perhaps heartened by the fact that the House bill is more liberal than the Senate bill -- it includes a public option, has more generous subsidies, offers tighter industry regulations and even removes the insurance industry's anti-trust exemption.

By moving the bill to conference, progressives are hoping they can improve the final product -- especially since some in the House have intimated that the Senate bill as it stood would never pass the House. Lieberman and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) have said they would filibuster the final product if it was more liberal than what we currently have in the Senate, but at this point, there's no telling if that will actually come to pass.

Progressives have lost the message regarding health care reform at every step; the mainstream media instead has focused on the loud anti-reform protests, the GOP obstructionists and the centrist Democrats who are given far too much power by inane and convoluted Senate procedural rules. A president reluctant to butt heads and twist arms hasn't helped matters, and progressives who stand up publicly and call for real reform (like, say, Dean) are brushed aside and mocked.

This is our chance to finally be heard.

Petitions are making the rounds all over the Internet, thanks to the likes of the PCCC, Democracy for America, CREDO Action and FireDogLake. Sign them. Call your elected representatives, in every chamber. Call the White House. Write emails to all of them, write letters to all of them. Visit their offices if you can.

We must be heard.

Threaten to take away your vote, threaten to take away your donations. Change voter registration if you so desire. Stop donating to the DNC, but instead donate, if you can, to individual candidates. Come the next election cycle, support and vote for more progressive primary candidates -- or even third-party candidates.

But we cannot be silent, and we cannot stay home from the polls. That's exactly what the GOP wants, and if you think the White House's agenda is having a hard time passing now ... imagine how hard it would be if Republicans gained seats.

This is our time. This is our cause. If the health care bill is to be improved in conference, it must be in part because we got loud and put the pressure on the government officials we put into office. We gave Democrats a huge mandate for change last year, not a pass to make us buy expensive and ineffective products from an industry that would rather pocket our money than provide the service for which we've been paying.

We are the change we are looking for. It's time we start acting like it.

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