Health Care,  Obama,  Stateside

Obama signs health care reform bill

Some observations on the health care reform bill approved by the US House of Representatives Sunday for signature by President Obama:

–It’s not the law I would have liked: a single-payer system covering all Americans equally. Barring that, I wish it had included a government-run public health insurance option to compete with the private plans. But it does have many positive benefits, not least of which is guaranteeing that virtually all Americans will have insurance. Most important, it finally puts the government on record as recognizing that health care is a basic right for all Americans.

–By relying overwhelmingly on a regulated private insurance market, as opposed to a government program, the bill is much more Republican (in the Theodore Roosevelt-Eisenhower-Nixon sense of the word) than it is a traditional New Deal-type Democratic plan. The irony, of course, is that not a single Republican in Congress voted for it– a sign of how the Republican “mainstream” has shifted in recent decades.

–The reaction from some Republicans has been downright hysterical– perhaps an indication that they are more concerned that the new law will turn out to be politically popular than they are that it will be a failure. House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio compared the bill to “Armageddon” and said it would “ruin our country.” Congressman Devin Nunes of California said in the final debate:

For most of the 21st century, people fled the ghosts of communist dictators and now you’re bringing the ghost back into this chamber. With passage of this bill, they will haunt Americans for generations. Your multi-trillion dollar health care bill continues the failed Soviet socialist experiment. It gives the federal government absolute control over healthcare in America…. Today Democrats in this House will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.

When anti-abortion Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan spoke on the House floor in support of the bill after Obama issued an executive order affirming that federal funds would not be used for abortion, Congressman Randy Neugebauer of Texas shouted “baby killer.” Neugebauer later explained that he was referring to the bill, not to Stupak. Yeah, right.

I could go on.

–As William Saletan of Slate writes:

Health care now becomes a policy story rather than a legislative sausage-grinding story. Tales of death panels and warnings about losing your doctor can now be falsified. (That’s what happened to the early scare stories about Social Security and Medicare.) And Republicans who denounce the program and promise to repeal it will no longer be bashing an abstraction. They will be proposing to take away existing, tangible benefits.

By talking about repealing a law that has such immediate benefits as barring insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, Republicans are not doing themselves any favors. If Alf Landon was alive, you could ask him. He was the Republican who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 on an anti-Social Security platform after that law was passed.

–After Republican Scott Brown, an opponent of the health care reform plan, won a special election to the Senate in January, I wrote:

The worst thing for Democrats to do now– both in terms of politics and policy– is to panic or take a defeatist, curl-up-and-die attitude. Health care reform is still worth fighting for. Obama was elected in 2008 on the promise of it. If voters have to choose between assertive Republicans and apologetic, backtracking Democrats, guess what they’ll do?

I think I was right. And while Democrats may lose some Congressional seats in this year’s election, I suspect the economy rather than the health care bill will be voters’ main focus. If the bill had been defeated, the impact on Democrats would have been much worse.

–I don’t know if any of those who wrote off Obama as a hopelessly ineffectual, out-of-his-depth leader will now revise their opinions. I promise not to bring up any of the comments here proclaiming him as such. But clearly this bill could not have become law without his politically smart and strenuous efforts which helped blunt the fear campaign against it.

Update: Talking Points Memo tracks violence and threats of violence aimed at Democrats since the health care reform bill was passed.

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