The health care reform bill coming out of the Senate
presents a real dilemma for spectators: How do you applaud while holding
There is so much that is wrong with it and the way it was made
and, at the same time, so much that is right that you just have to shake
your head in despair and in wonder.
As one who covered the Clintons' struggle 15 years ago to pass health
care reform and wrote an overly long book about their failure even to bring
it to a vote in a Democratic Congress, I am in awe at the prospect of such
a bill making it all the way to the White House.
When implemented years from now, it promises to make as many as 30
million men and women who now live with the fear of illness or
hospitalization leading straight to financial ruin eligible for the same
care as their more fortunate, insured neighbors.
Six decades after his death, one of FDR's Four Freedoms will, at long
last, be guaranteed to almost all Americans. And the shame of this affluent
society tolerating the denial of health care to its own citizens will be
But Lord, what a load of embarrassment accompanies this sense of
satisfaction! What should have been a moment of proud accomplishment for
the United States Senate, right up there with the passage of Social
Security and the first civil rights bills, was instead a travesty of
low-grade political theater angry rhetoric and backroom deals.
There's blame enough to go around. Start with the 40 Republicans, not
one of whom was willing to break out of the mold of negative conformity and
offer a sustained working partnership in serious legislative effort.
But even those Republicans who were initially inclined to do that
and there were at least a handful of them were turned away by the White
House and the Senate Democratic leaders, who never lifted their sights much
beyond the Democratic ranks.
Forced to bargain for every vote among the 60 in his caucus, Majority
Leader Harry Reid did what he usually does: He reduced the negotiations to
his own level of transactional morality. Incapable of summoning his
colleagues to statesmanship, he made the deals look as crass and parochial
as many of them were encasing a historic achievement in a wrapping of
payoff and patronage.
The taint has rubbed off on the bill. This week's Quinnipiac
University poll found a 53-36 percent majority disapproving of the
legislation and an overwhelming number 73 percent to 18 percent
saying they do not believe it will, as promised, reduce future budget
deficits. It now becomes President Obama's personal responsibility to
strengthen the cost-saving features of the bill and present them in a
better way. Two of them are vulnerable to attack when the bill goes back to
conference with the House in January. Liberal Democrats do not like the
independent commission in the Senate bill having power to enforce savings
in Medicare and the private health system. And labor does not accept the
Senate plan to tax high-end insurance plans.
Obama has not intervened with a heavy hand as the bill has moved
through the House and Senate, but now it is time for him to act.
It would help a lot if he reached out personally to those few
Republicans who might still want to improve the bill rather than sink it.
And it would help even more if he shamed the Democrats into rescinding some
of the crasser bargains they made to buy votes along the way.
The country would welcome even a few signs that this legislation has
Then we could applaud its final passage, and take our thumbs down from