Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What will happen if some version of the Senate's healthcare reform bill doesn't pass now?

The bill that was passed in a 1:00 a.m. vote in the Senate Monday is so awful, so compromised, so filled with handouts to healthcare lobbyists, so downright corrupt that it's driving a lot of liberals out of their skulls with frustration. Many feel that no bill would be better than this mess. Mocking the "'Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good' crowd," Arianna Huffington is part of the chorus of voices calling for this bad bill to be defeated so we can start over.
There are many reasons for hoping the current Senate bill doesn't become law. But the biggest reason of all is the desperate need for a DC pattern interrupt. The desperate need to draw a line in the sand against the continued domination of our democracy -- and the continued undermining of the public interest -- by special interests.
Just how is this "DC pattern interrupt" going to happen? What's going to make the special interests go away? Nothing -- as the "draw a line in the sand" metaphor unconsciously suggests; after all, the tide always washes away the line in the sand.

In an earlier era, there were lefties who rejected liberal reforms because they were calling for a revolution that would never come in this country. The "line in the sand" is the same sort of thing.

Liberal calls for defeating this bill seem to reflect a misunderstanding of how reform happens in the United States. What if LBJ had bailed on Medicare in 1965 because the special interests made it impossible to cover the whole population? Would that have been a good thing?

Bismarck created universal healthcare in Germany more than 125 years ago, in 1883. Almost immediately, American reformers started pushing for our own version. In 1916 the reformers seemed to be on the verge of success. Then the special interests started pushing back. They've been pushing back ever since.

And if the current bill is defeated under savage attack from both the right and the left, what will be remembered are not the liberal talking points but the attacks from the right. The historical narrative that will become the conventional wisdom will be that there was a populist uprising of Americans who did not want the government to come between them and their doctors. That Americans refused to let government dictate their treatment. That the people rose up against government death panels. Etc. There will be a (totally phony but effective nevertheless) consensus that "the people have spoken." No Congress will dare to touch the issue for a decade or more.

If we want to stake everything on first taking on the special interests and taking them out of the process entirely, why hasn't this approach succeeded in more than a century? Unfortunately, this really is the best we can do for now. Pass the bill. Then take on the special interests.


Anonymous said...



jw_creations / Jonah Westrich

My name is Jonah, and I currently reside in Madison, Wisconsin. I work full time as a Graphic Designer and Photographer, as well as run my own business for freelance design and photography work.

do you two know each other ??

cathy said...

I think this bill is like when Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile - he didn't break it by much, but he broke the idea that it couldn't be broken. This bill breaks the idea that we can't have national health care. In the future we can work on making it better.