Conservatives are really good at acting like victims. The latest injustice they are suffering is the proposed use of reconciliation to pass the health care reform bill. Conservatives are calling this method of covering an additional 30 million people and reducing the national deficit by 118 million dollars a parliamentary “trick,” an “assault on the democratic process,” and an attempt to “cram health care down our throats.”
If you look at Wikipedia.com, you can see that, since 1980, 17 of 23 reconciliation bills were signed into law by Republican Presidents, undermining current claims that the Democrats are doing something underhanded. Under Bush II, reconciliation was used three times to pass tax cuts even after the Congressional Budget Office predicted they would substantially increase the federal deficit. Conservatives significantly violated the original purpose of reconciliation to pass their agenda in the face of Democratic opposition and now are crying foul when the tables are turned. How patriotic of them. They have been cramming legislation down our throats for several decades.
However, are the Democrats really cramming (or ramming – depending on the commentator) health care reform down our throats? Shortly after Obama was elected, he sponsored a series of conferences where he invited all of the health care stakeholders to participate in reforming a broken system. These series of meetings included business CEO’s, health insurance companies, providers of health care, politicians, ordinary citizens, and pharmaceutical companies – everybody that would be affected by changes to the system. The stakeholders fully participated in these meetings, progress was being made, and Obama was showing us a new way to deal with thorny issues. He was not only holding public, transparent meetings, but also, in doing so, undermining the influence of lobbyists.
As Republicans watched Obama usher in an intelligent, inclusive form of governing, they started going ballistic. If Obama was successful, they would lose power for decades to come and that was more than they could bear. Though they had been obstructionistic before, they really cranked up the spin machinery and played to everyone’s fear though distortions and outright lies. In the recent past, conservatives had voted to cut Medicare funding, to turn Medicare into a voucher system, to pay physicians to discuss end-of-life decisions with their elderly patients, socialized pharmaceuticals for the elderly, and the list goes on. Suddenly, everything they had tried to change before the Democrats gained control became unacceptable. They seized on this excellent opportunity to distract ordinary citizens from their gross mismanagement of the economy and increasing the national debt over five trillion, with a T, dollars in less than seven years. They yelled so loud about death panels, government takeover of health care, and socialism that people began to think the Democrats caused 10% unemployment, fell into bed with Wall Street, and crashed the housing market – all within nine months of assuming power! Now, that is power my friend!
Not only did Obama hold these stakeholder conferences but also he met face-to-face with politicians from both parties. More important, some of these meeting were televised and we were able to witness his mastery of the complexities involved in changing the health care system. We were able to witness his openness to incorporating Republican ideas into the reform process. We were able to see first-hand that the Republicans had no intentions of working with the Democrats to overhaul a broken system. In spite of total conservative opposition, Obama folded a number of Republican ideas into the reform process. He accepted the arguments for small business tax breaks and medical malpractice reform, among others. He understood that these ideas had merit and would contribute to the success of health care reform. The bill is bipartisan even if the votes fail to be.
However, the inclusion of these ideas did not stop the relentless conservative drumbeat that nothing was better than something. I have to hand it to them, Republicans are excellent at fear mongering. We are more than a year down the road since health care reform was introduced. As Obama said the other day, everything that needs to be said about health care has been said. There is nothing new to add to the debate. It is time to pass reform and in the face of continuing Republican opposition, Democrats must forget bipartisanship and go it alone.
Polling shows that the primary opposition to reform lies in ignorance over the details. Overall, people say they do not want the reform bill to pass. However, when informed of the key components (health insurance exchanges, existing coverage unchanged, prohibited from denying coverage, close doughnut hole for seniors), they overwhelmingly support it. Space will not allow me to provide all of the details but check the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll of January 2010.
To answer the question I posed about the “cramming/ramming” distortion, I fail to see how a yearlong debate over reform, that included all of the stakeholders, “crams” anything anywhere. Everyone had a say, everyone was heard, and now it is time to pass reform. Let the Republicans take their best shot in November.