Sunday, December 27, 2009

Moving Forward on Health Care -- A First, Imperfect Step

Much has been made of the somewhat "unseemly" way that health care reform was passed.  The reality is that due to the Senate's arcane rules -- which both parties have used to their advantage when in the minority -- require a fillibuster proof majority to get work done.  During the Bush years, before 2006, Democrats used the threat of a fillibuster to prevent certain Court nominees from coming to a vote.  Now that the tables have turned, the GOP is vexing their power, threatening fillibusters.  This ultimately puts power in the hands of the few -- actually 2 or 3 Senators.  A Ben Nelson can demand certain goodies, because his vote is needed to clear the way for a vote.  If there was no fillibuster, this bill would look very different, would have a public option and might be cleaner.  But the rules don't currently allow for that. It's not a Constitutional Issue, it's a Senate Rules thing.  The Republicans wanted to drag this out, knowing that the longer you drag something out, the more likely you can galvanize opposition -- usually by offering misinformation.  As I write this, I want to make it clear that the Democrats are not pure in this.  The minority was given tremendous power.  And in the Senate this is compounded by the fact that every state, no matter how large or small has the same representation.  Thus, Wyoming has the same power as California and New York.

So, as I've argued before, and E.J. Dionne makes even clearer in a Washington Post column, liberals could have done what folks like Howard Dean demanded and vote down the bill.  But, in doing this they weren't going to get a better bill.  The dynamics simply won't allow it.  Now, maybe a better bill can finally be negotiated between House and Senate, but even there, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (along with the Republican caucus) can hold up things in the Senate. 

What we need to consider here is that this is only the beginning, an imperfect foundation upon which something better can be built.  It's just the first step in a series of steps.  In an earlier post I seem to have dismissed those who choose minor parties -- I didn't mean to insult folks who make that choice.  But I think political realism means that we recognize that given our current system, minor parties will not emerge to challenge the two major parties.  This is true even though neither party commands a minority of voters.  But, those unaffiliated with either party are not of one mind, and thus won't coalesce into one party. 

Maybe a better solution is to reform the Senate and abolish the fillibuster rule -- but we who are members of the reigning party need to remember that if we're in the minority, the same power will go to us.  On the other hand, as Californians are learning, requiring a supermajority on everything paralyzes the political process.   There are no perfect choices, just ones that are less imperfect.

So, let us make the most of what has transpired, and continue working for better, more affordable health care for all Americans. 

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