Senate Republicans said Thursday that they would try to filibuster a massive Pentagon bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unusual move that several acknowledged was an effort to delay President Obama’s health-care legislation. …
“I don’t want health care,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) said in explaining his support of a filibuster. He is a member of the Appropriations Committee, which crafted the Pentagon funding bill.
Brownback is running for Governor of Kansas next year, where one can hope he’ll get lots of questions about why he wanted to leave our troops without adequate resources simply to ensure that tens of thousands of Kansans wouldn’t have health insurance.
Meanwhile, in the wee hours of the morning, the Senate cleared the first procedural hurdle to sending health care reform back to the House before Christmas. It isn’t perfect, but Jacob Hacker, the father of the public option, backs it (h/t), noting:
If and when legislation passes, progressives should demand immediate concrete actions to make the promise of a reform a reality more quickly and more effectively.
So a bill must pass. Yet it must be a better bill that passes. And it must be understood by the President, the Congress and every American as only a step — an important but ultimately incomplete step — toward the vital goal that the campaign for the public option embodied: good affordable health care for every American.
As Sir Charles points out, this is how we got such great social programs as Social Security:
Those who are calling on Obama to bring the hammer down on the party’s mushy middlers are just not being clear-headed about the leverage that Obama actually possesses in places like Nebraska, Arkansas, or Louisiana, i.e. more or less none.
And that’s one of the reasons that the original Social Security Act passed under FDR “sold out” huge chunks of the southern, African-American work force by exempting agricultural and domestic workers from its coverage. Even our most vaunted liberal president, blessed with huge majorities in both houses, winner of a crushing landslide victory that gave him a mandate to tackle the Great Depression, still had to count votes.
Social Security, when first passed, excluded huge populations now protected by it. It covered spouses, but not most of the jobs held by women at the time. The NAACP decried the initial Social Security Act as “a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.” Disability benefits were added in the 1950s. Certain state employees were excluded from Social Security until 1990.
Whatever bill the Senate passes, and however the House and Senate sort out their differences, it’s clear that President Obama will fulfill one of his major campaign pledges within about a year in office. That’s a good start, but it will only be the foundation of work to come. Bill Clinton would’ve given his eye teeth for some of the reforms that serve as the baseline for both House and Senate bills. Harry Truman or Franklin Roosevelt would surely accept these reforms as important steps toward a promise of health care for all. Ted Kennedy would be pleased to see the reforms being put together.
The bill is not and will not be all that it should be. But by 2014, when all its provisions kick in, I expect Congress will have started building on this achievement.
And for all the complaints about the White House being insufficiently supportive of a public option, it’s important to take a broad view here. The endgame isn’t this bill, it’s 10 years from now, when we see how reform(s) play out. And since the campaign, if not earlier, President Obama has laid the groundwork for broad public acceptance for the sort of reforms we’re starting to see, including a public option. The idea still feels a little novel and a little scary to a few members of the public, but I suspect we’ll see the Overton window shifting on government involvement in health insurance, and about the need for government to act as a backstop, a way to guarantee competition in the marketplace and coverage for all Americans.
The votes weren’t there this year for a public option, but I’ll bet we don’t have to worry about Joe Lieberman’s vote after 2012. And Olympia Snowe is likely to find herself in something like Arlen Specter’s shoes, finding it easier to get re-elected as a Democrat. At which point, she’ll want to fend off primary challenges by touting her new-found support for a public option. Ben Nelson is unlikely to be replaced by anyone more solid on this issue, but with two fewer sticks in the mud, he’ll have a harder time holding back the change we need.
As the man says, don’t mourn, organize.