22 March 2010

The Morning After

In the end, this is a huge deal. Various American governments - from Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century, to his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt in the 30s and 40s, to Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and on to Bill Clinton - have all tried, and failed, to overhaul our health care industry. While this bill is imperfect in many ways, it is a major step in the right direction.

For my compatriots on the left who think this bill wasn't worth the blood, sweat and tears, I offer this argument...

Perhaps our sites were set too high. In a perfect world a single-payer program - or even a public option - were preferred, but they were never do-able politically. As votes in the Senate last year proved, conservative Democrats were willing to vote with the Republican minority to filibuster such language. We would need a super-duper majority of 65 or 70 Democrats that included at least 60 liberal-progressives to pass any sort of Canadian or British style health care plan. Unfortunately, electing such a politically liberal Senate, even in 2010, isn't in the cards.

As for the President, he did all he could to push things along. Yes, major compromises were made. Yes, the process took way too long. But the reality is the reality - Mr. Obama has bigger fish to fry: A financial sector in dire straits, a jobs market that is stubborn in its lack of job creation, two wars that need to be wrapped up. Thus, the President needed to retain at least a little bit of his political capital. To be sure, he spent a tremendous amount of it on this legislation. But there is still some left. And we need him to succeed in keeping the ship of state on a steady course.

More reactions on health care from around the "inter-web"...

Steve Clemons:
Anyone watching the health care debate unfold this past year couldn't help but note that it had the feel of a badly run, badly managed sports season in which the President's team nonetheless is going to end up holding the trophy cup.
Josh Marshall:
The US has had several runs with major pieces of social legislation. And the record is that they don't get repealed. They're expanded and become embedded in the national political economy.

Once Health Care [becomes law]; the middle class will like it. And there will be no repealing or doing away with it. And its success will create a new generation of Democrats.

Hard fought victories don't deplete political capital; they build it. And political wins themselves often have a catalyzing effect that shapes political opinion far more than we realize.

Make no mistake, it's a genuinely historic moment, a realization that only now seems to be dawning on people.
Andrew Sullivan:
Yes, in the end, he got all House votes he needed. Yes, he worked our last nerve to get there. But, yes, too, this is an important victory - the first true bloodied, grueling revelation that his persistence, another critical Obama quality, finally paid off in the presidency. He could have given up weeks ago, as the punditry advised (because they seem to have no grasp of substance and mere addiction to hour-to-hour political plays). But he refused. That took courage. And relentlessness.

The narrative will be about his persistence and his grit, rather than his near-divinity and his authority. And suddenly it will appear — lo! — as if this lone figure has not just rescued the US economy from the abyss, but also passed the biggest piece of social legislation in decades.

The public will merely notice that the guy can come back and fight. Even when they don’t always agree with such a figure on the issues, they can admire him.

Again, the real parallel is Ronald Reagan.

People forget how unpopular Reagan was at the same point in his presidency — and passing [Reagan's] big tax cut was legislatively a lot easier than reforming a health sector the size of the British economy. But like Obama he persisted and, with luck and learning, aimed very high.

Obama has bet that this is his destiny. He is extremely cautious from day to day, staggeringly flexible on tactics, but not at all modest when you look at the big picture.

He still wants to rebuild the American economy from the ground up, re-regulate Wall Street, withdraw from Iraq, win in Afghanistan, get universal health insurance and achieve a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine in his first term. That’s all. And although you can see many small failures on the way, and agonising slowness as well, you can also see he hasn’t dropped his determination to achieve it all.
Christina Bellantoni:
House Democrats celebrated a major victory late last night after they passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system while simultaneously approving a package of fixes to the measure. But it's not the law of the land, not yet. What happens next is both simple in that there's one major vote left. But it's a bit complicated, since President Obama actually will sign one bill and then wait for the Senate to pass the other.

The House approved the Senate bill last night, warts and all. Those warts - a tax on high-end insurance plans, several special deals made for members of the Senate on Medicaid and abortion language that pro-life Democrats in the House weren't comfortable with - are removed [in a second] measure...which also passed the House last night.
In order for these fixes to pass without threat of a filibuster in the Senate, the President has to sign the first bill into law. Then the Senate can begin debating on the changes the House passed in the second bill. Complicated? A little. But it's generally how government works, only this time it's getting a lot of media attention due to the enormity of the bill.

And finally, one more time, Andrew Sullivan:

Starring Road Runner as Barack Obama, and Wyle E. Coyote as the congressional Republicans...