Steve Benen reminds me about the GOP effort to block a defense spending bill to delay health-care reform:

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Cujo359
    December 22, 2009

    This is a list of things that, for the most part, have been belabored quite a bit. If Social Security had to be enforced on powerful industries that were motivated and able to subvert that enforcement, it never would have gotten started. The Senate bill has no provision for enforcement of the regulations on the insurance industry that I’ve been able to see, although there is provision for enforcing the individual mandate. Combine that with the lack of an adequate minimum insurance policy, and what you get is a lot of people who will be forced to buy insurance that won’t do them any good. They, along with the people whose employer-provided insurance will be taxed if the Senate bill prevails, are going to be mightily pissed at the Democrats when the bills come due.

    As usual, the poor and the middle class are being screwed to make the rich more comfortable.

    I’m also less comforted by the idea that Olympia Snowe might become a Democrat. Even if I thought that Democrats will still be more popular with the public than the GOP, we have plenty of her kind of Democrat already. We need progressives, not people who would have been Republicans if the GOP were still sane. FTM, we need a sane GOP.

  2. #2 Dakota
    December 22, 2009

    While I agree with Cujo359 that much is lacking from the current bill, it is clearly a step in the right direction. Josh’s article points to the limitations of the original Social Security Act as an example of the benefits of accepting a flawed bill and correcting it after it becomes law. Health care reform has been a losing battle since JFK was in the White House. Today, we are close to passing meaningful though less than ideal reform. Progressives should back the current bill. The other option is no reform at all and a future struggle to get us to where we are today.

  3. #3 Cujo359
    December 23, 2009

    If the original Social Security bill had made things worse for a substantial number of Americans and rewarded the industry that had done the most to make the situation worse, then that might be a valid point. If it had institutionalized the worst aspects of the system, then there’d be room for hope. All the original SS failed to do was cover some parts of the population.

    This is far, far, worse, and the fact that many progressives don’t seem to understand this is depressing.

  4. #4 Dakota
    December 24, 2009

    Cujo359,

    You and I are at a “glass half empty vs. glass half full” impasse here. I recognize that the bill is flawed. Do you see nothing beneficial in the bill?

  5. #5 Cujo359
    December 24, 2009

    I can pretty much sum up the benefits that I see in two bullet points:

    – Medicaid extension (people at 133% of FPL will qualify, provided states can come up with the funds)

    – Some improvements to Medicare

    There are also some changes to how nursing homes will be overseen that may or may not turn out to be good, depending on implementation.

    The glass isn’t half full here – there’s a bit of water at the bottom, and we have to spend the day working before we can drink it. I’ll just have to be forgiven for not thanking the people who have plenty of water for giving us any at all.