Defeating the Coalition to Kill Health Care Reform

In the Clinton White House, we fought for the most progressive budget bill since 1965. And we did it without a single Republican vote. We are now on the verge of a much greater achievement.
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For those of us continuing to fight for the President's proposals on health care- including covering everyone at a price they can afford, strong regulations on insurers, tough cost containment measures, and a public option to keep insurers honest- it can get discouraging sometimes. I continue to be concerned by the number of progressive friends I have who have become convinced that we cannot win this fight, and are on the verge of giving up. I believe that we are very much in this fight, that there is a clear path to victory, and that it would be a tragedy for those of you who have been fighting for this moment for so long to give up now.

It is easy to get discouraged. The array of forces in outright opposition- insurance companies, somewhere between 98% and 100% of Republicans in Congress, the massive right-wing attack machines- is huge and very loud. Traditional media is so relentlessly negative and cynical that it frequently seems as if they have just joined the coalition mentioned in the previous sentence- I guess they prefer covering a train wreck to seeing something substantive done. And the conventional wisdom/establishment-oriented Democrats who are all too ready to give up the fight for really comprehensive reform and just take the easier path of not really taking on the powerful insurance industry are perhaps the most discouraging of all- they have probably done more to undermine enthusiasm for the President's goals than anyone.

But for those of us fighting this battle in the trenches every day, it is clear that there is a path to victory. It's far from a lock, it will require work and backbone by progressives, but the path is in front of us. And my sense is that more and more people are seeing it as a real possibility- David Sirota had a column today on it, Chris Bowers has been writing about it, Digby and many others as well. And progressive groups and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are doing meetings every day, continuing to work the strategy.

So how do we win this fight?

  • Hold the progressives in the House to only vote for a public option. So far, so good. They've signed multiple letters, taken multiple pledges, sent a very clear message about their determination. They need to stay strong.

  • Get the Democrats in the Senate to accept that this will have to be a Democrats-only bill. This seems to be moving in the right direction. Schumer sent exactly the right message over the weekend, and it's clear things are beginning to head that way.
  • Split the bill into two parts in the Senate, with the public option and the financing going through the reconciliation process. Democats are sending signals that they are moving in that direction as well.
  • Get enough Senators on board for the public option. The whip count DFA and we at OpenLeft have been running shows us at 45. We need five more, and there are several Democrats I think are prime possibilities to come along if this is the path we go down.
  • Above all, don't panic. There will be some rough days ahead. Certain Senators will keep saying we can't get this done, and pundits will continue to shed the worst possible light on each day's events. But we just need to hang tough, hold strong, and keep working.
  • We are within range of a truly historic victory. Right now is exactly the wrong time for conventional wisdom Dems, or progressive activists, to throw in the towel.

    When I was in the Clinton White House, our biggest victory was the 1993 budget fight. At a dozen points along the way, the media pronounced us dead, and some staffers in the White House had pretty much given up as well. But we kept fighting, and we ended up with the most progressive budget bill in the 43 years between 1965 and today. We raised taxes on the wealthy, cut them on the poor, and gave much-needed money to job training, education, environment, low-income folks, and other important domestic priorities. And we did it without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate.

    We are now on the verge of a much greater achievement, but only if we don't lose our will and lose our nerve. If we keep fighting until the fight is done, we can make history.

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