Tonight, President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress, whose members are freshly returned from August recess. What the President will say and how it will affect the national discussion on health care reform remains to be seen. What is absolutely certain is that the discussion over the past month has been hijacked by delusional claims by people whose agenda consists of little more than scoring cheap political points.
The greatest and most offensive inequities in this nation happen when someone is denied medical care. That this concept does not drive to the core of every elected official who holds the public trust is a threat to our democracy.
The bottom line is insurance companies don't care, Democrats have a real mandate, Republicans won't support anything, and it's time to flex some muscle. Before the discussion even began in earnest, insurance companies already won when a single payer plan was replaced with a goal of universal coverage. Let me say what no one is saying:
- Health insurance companies are corporations with a fiduciary responsibility to earn a profit for its shareholders.
- They do not have a legal responsibility to provide medical care.
- Yet, health insurance companies are the primary means of access to medical care for Americans.
- All of the above points to a system that is badly broken.
While requiring them to insure people with pre-existing conditions is progress, it's kind of like bailing out the Titanic with a teacup. There are now 50 million people without health insurance and therefore without proper access to medical care. It is a national crisis and it's time that Washington acted with a sense of urgency in addressing it.
Democrats enjoy larger majorities in the Congress than we have had in a generation. We have a President who made health care a central tenant of his campaign for election. The American people have charged them with the awesome responsibility for making our nation a more fair and just place.
Republicans have made it clear that they will not be a part of the solution. It is a simple political calculation for them. Each day that passes, the President's approval rating slips, making it easier for them to obstruct the progress that America so badly needs. Further, they have incited enough fear to prompt the usual Blue Dog Democratic fear of doing what they were elected to do. Hence, we find ourselves in the political quandary of cobbling together enough votes to pass reform that includes a public option, which is absolutely critical in forcing private health insurance companies to be better through competition.
What's the way forward? It's time for the White House and Democratic leadership to get its act together and put together the votes. The political reality is that passing a bill with a robust public option is not a liability. The Republicans have actually created a huge opportunity for Democrats. On the one hand, we can retreat from our values and deliver them a huge victory that they will continue to hammer us with. Or we can defy the fears they have conjured and pass the bill.
When the situations they have predicted never come to pass, they will pay a long term political price for hindering and voting against what may be seen as the greatest piece of social progress made in decades. By passing real health care reform with a public option now, it will become a huge asset to Democrats by the time the 2010 election rolls around.
So get to it! As soon as a robust bill is passed, the politics of the situation will turn quickly in favor of the Democrats and we will have honored our Party's tradition of taking on the greatest challenges of our nation at the most difficult of times.