After months of venomous debate, Congress has passed Barack Obamas
healthcare reform package.
Whether you hate President Obama or love him, whether you loathe the
healthcare bill as a harbinger of doom for the country or love it as
the greatest thing since the Bill of Rights, it is undeniably an
accomplishment of historic proportions for the president and Speaker
of the House Nancy Pelosi. And you have to admit the president is one
tenacious son-of-a-gun. Undeterred when the bill was declared dead on
at least three occasions, he was resolute in his commitment.
National healthcare reform was first proposed during Teddy Roosevelts
presidency and it failed. A majority of subsequent presidents have
taken some sort of stab at it. FDR couldnt get it done even as he
was succeeding at almost everything else he tried. Lyndon Johnson, a
legendary arm twister, couldnt get it done despite invoking the name
of the martyred John Kennedy during his efforts. Bill and Hillary
Clinton famously couldnt get it done and it nearly destroyed his
presidency as it was just getting started.
But Barack Obama, for better or worse, did get it done. That would
not be the case if Nancy Pelosi hadnt been able to somehow keep
enough of her Democrat troops together. She is not especially
articulate or charismatic. She too often appears to be in some kind
of West Coast fog. But her successful effort delivering votes places
her at the top of the list of the most powerful women in the history
of the United States Congress. Extraordinary is too small a word to
describe the accomplishment.
Now that this behemoth is signed into law, where do we go from here?
For starters, children can be covered under their parents insurance
almost immediately and they cannot be excluded for pre-existing
conditions. This will be especially beneficial to parents of children
with chronic or catastrophic health conditions. They will no longer
have to go begging and pleading to get some medical help and everyone
should agree that is a very good thing.
Most of the bill wont take effect until 2014 and that means there is
still time to fix some of the glaring weaknesses. For example,
companies with 50 employees or more will be required to provide health
insurance to their employees. Failure to do so will result in a fine.
But the fine is less than the cost of the insurance so there is a
financial incentive for companies to ignore the insurance requirement
and pay the fine. Additionally, there is little to prevent insurance
companies from dramatically increasing their rates between now and
2014 in anticipation of mandatory coverage and competitive insurance
pools designed to provide coverage for those still uninsured. That
wont help stabilize or drive down costs, either.
But we will no longer have 35 million plus uninsured citizens using
the emergency room as their primary care providers, a cost being borne
by the rest of us. More Americans will now have access to
substantially cheaper preventative care instead of brutally expensive
crisis management care. And coverage for children is a monumental step
The greatest mystery remaining is the level of vitriol in evidence
from opponents. Political opposition to major legislative efforts is
an American tradition. Angry debate accompanied the efforts to create
Social Security, Medicare and the Civil Rights Act. But this is
something at an entirely different level altogether. The rage were
now witnessing, ably abetted by wild-eyed congressional opponents, has
reached irrational levels. Supporters of the bill have been the
targets of racial epithets and death threats. The most extreme
Republicans have become angry Chicken Littles ranting about the end of
the United States. Talk radio has descended to new lows with Rush
Limbaugh referring to supporters of the bill as those bastards.
We saw a bit of this during the Vietnam War among those subjected to
the draft and their families. But that involved potential death or
maiming in a conflict few understood and that had become increasingly
unpopular. The level of animosity over healthcare reform is more
difficult to comprehend. Why are opponents so uncontrollably angry?
Do they really think this will destroy the country? Are they pissed
off because their neighbors with the child suffering from muscular
dystrophy will now have some health insurance to help with treatments?
Is it because members of Congress have been so irresponsible with
their rhetoric and the uninformed have simply followed their lead?
Maybe its a lot simpler than that. Maybe the anger is more personal.
The same folks who dont believe Barack Obama was born in the United
States, who believe he is a Muslim, who believe his staff is full of
criminal czars, cannot stomach the idea they once again lost. And,
even worse, Barack Obama won. Again.
Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant who formerly wrote for the Arizona