Three salient phenomena emerged from a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee a few weeks ago: A bill to reform health care was approved (it even had the much-lauded support of a Republican senator from Maine); two proposals to include a public option in reform failed; and somehow, albeit by a 12–11 margin, a proposal earmarking $50 million for abstinence-only education passed.
The final proposal passed although the the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., voiced his concern that abstinence-only education has been repeatedly proven to be a woefully ineffective policy measure and is even dangerous to American youth. It passed although President Obama adamantly opposed the meausre. It passed although Democrats controlled 13 of 23 seats on this committee. What is wrong with the Democratic Party?
Upon hearing about this curious dual trinity of occurrences, I decided to follow the sacred advice perennially given to the politically dissatisfied: I wrote a letter to my senator. As it happens, Bill Nelson, D-Fl., sits on this committee and voted against fellow Democrat Jay Rockefeller’s robust proposal for a public option. Admittedly, my senator later voted in support of a weaker public option and against abstinence-only education funding, but his actions show fault lines within the party.
And the fight for real reform is clearly far from over.
The Baucus bill (the one that came out of committee), while a laudable compromise of woefully disparate interests, is quite weak. Not only is there no public option, but the Senate bill conspicuously lacks provisions to counteract the disastrous effects of the Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling in Laborers Health and Welfare Trust Fund for Northern California v.Advanced Lightweight Concrete Co., Inc. This ruling eviscerated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and denies those insured by their employers the ability to sue for damages if health insurers opt to cut benefits. In other words, even if the Baucus bill passes without further degeneration, should your insurer refuse to cover the cost of a lifesaving organ transplant, you only have two choices: pay out of pocket or die. This is the health care reform we want? What is wrong with the Democratic Party?
The Democratic Party has a super-majority in Congress, but even if we didn’t, Democrats should expect our own members to stand on their convictions and hold each other to theirs. We are the party of the people, of reasoned discourse, of practicality, of civil rights and civil justice. We know the public option will do wonders for millions of Americans, and we need to stand up for it.
Although I am Yalie and am looking forward to all the doors my degress will purportedly open and have a year and a half until I graduate, I’m already apprehensive about facing the job market. My father is in the Army and I’m covered by his insurance for now, but that ends, per the policy of the Department of Defense, when I turn 23. Then, I’m out on my own. I have no idea what my health care will look like in 2012, and that uncertainty instills in me a fear that should never be felt by any citizen of a country professing to be free and for the people. It shouldn’t be too much to ask our senators to consider us, the people; they are, after all, elected to represent our interests. Yet as that seems often to be too wearisome a task for some of them, citizens like you and me must hassle our leaders and hold their feet to the fire.
In response to the National Equality March just over a week ago, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, rather shrewdly noted that such noise was essentially meaningless on Capitol Hill. His alternative was simple, if less ostentatious: harass your congressmen. So if you care about the public option or any other issue worth pursuing, harass your representatives and your senators until they do the jobs for which they reap so many incredible benefits from our tax dollars.
Put simply: The problem with health care, with the Democratic Party, is us; right now we aren’t doing enough to make our congressmen feel it. Let’s change that.
Anthony Lecounte is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.