Mark it down: March 21, 2010.
After decades of waiting and false starts, after more than a year of heated debate, town hall meetings, rallies and protests, comprehensive health care reform has finally come to our country. With a now filibuster-threatened Senate, House Democrats pulled together last night in the 11th hour (literally) to pass the Senate bill and a reconciliation bill with changes. The reconciliation bill is likely to pass the Senate sometime this week.
The Senate bill is not perfect, and there is certainly much more work to be done, but it will deliver basic coverage to millions more Americans than our current system. And the legislation passed late last night by the House of Representatives and soon to be signed by President Obama lowers health care costs, denies insurance providers the ability to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, increases competition among insurance companies and is projected to lower the government deficit by $143 billion.
Republicans have said that the bill is too long and that it is unconstitutional. They have argued that the legislative process has been riddled with kickbacks, back room deals and arcane congressional procedure, and that the Democrats left Republicans out of negotiations while quickly forcing their own partisan bill through Congress. But it is insincere to say that the bill passed last night is purely partisan or that it unfairly or too quickly made its way through the House and Senate. The bill includes many Republicans’ ideas and programs. It comes as a result of bipartisan work with Republican members of Congress. Republicans have little ground to stand on in attacking the partisan nature of the bill when, given the chance to air concerns and ideas at President Obama’s health care summit in February, their delegates to the summit spent their time merely repeating tired talking points and calling for a total restart on the bill.
And the processes used by Democrats to secure the bill’s passage, such as the use of a reconciliation bill able to be passed in the Senate without threat of a bill-killing filibuster by Republicans, are processes that have been used time and time again by Republicans to ensure passage of their bills.
Though many Republicans and members of the Tea Party movement have argued otherwise, the bill is not some socialist, Robin Hoodian attempt at redistribution. It is one for all Americans.
We’ve all heard the stories about the woman with cancer who is denied health care coverage due to her preexisting condition and who subsequently dies from lack of coverage or about the mother, strapped by a tough recession, forced to watch as her son slowly perishes after her insurance provider drops his coverage. Stories like these are not of people who acted irresponsibly, who denied help when it was offered to them or who failed to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. They are about people who got sick, who suffered from the worst kind of bad luck. They could very well be the stories of you or me.
It is stories like these that drove the bill through Congress. Though its passage signifies a victory for congressional Democrats and President Obama, many across the country worry about its political ramifications. Conservatives have vowed that its passage means the end of Democratic majorities in Congress. In truth, Republicans have done a remarkable job of staying on message in their opposition of the bill and of the Obama Administration. It was telling that, in the final days of debate, Republican members focused their rhetoric on the stories of Democratic members who lost their seats in 1992 after a failed attempt at health care reform.
However, while Democrats in conservative-leaning districts and states may face tough races in November, this was not a bill that was passed for political preservation. It was a bill that was passed for the preservation of the American people.
From a national viewpoint, our country can no longer sustain the enormous percentage of our gross domestic product used to pay for unnecessary health care costs. The Congressional Budget Office expects it to skyrocket to 31 percent by 2035. We can no longer suffer the incredible losses in productivity and life that come as a result of untreated illnesses. We can no longer maintain the cost of treating millions of uninsured Americans in emergency rooms or watch as those around us die for lack of adequate coverage. This is not a just an issue of decency and sentiment. It is an issue of national interest.
The United States of America can do better for its citizens and to secure its own prosperity. It can do better to fulfill the oft-cited promise to the protection of life. For years, we have struggled to execute that promise. Last night, we did better.
Zak Newman is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College and the events coordinator for the Yale College Democrats.