Politics and health care from the heartland


As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington used to say, "Politics ain't beanbag."

Washington was quoting another Chicagoan, and maybe it runs in the water here. You claim your victories, you brush off your defeats and you move on to fight another day. Pragmatic politics from the heartland.

And so goes the fight of the decade, or is it the century? Health care.

The Senate is poised (we hope) to pass the most significant piece of health care reform legislation since Medicare, it is said. Previous presidents tried, and previous presidents failed to bring reform. This for-profit health care chaos Americans are saddled with, what we call our health care system, is a tiger many have tried to grab by its tail. This time it seems that the Democrats are still holding on to that tail, barely.

It's a sellout to Big Insurance, shouts the principled left. It's a step in the right direction, reason the pragmatic progressives. It's a monstrosity, rants the Republican right. I'm just glad it's coming to an end, sigh Democratic leaders.

And it may be all of these. Like the blindfolded people surrounding an elephant, it all depends on the point of contact.

Here are a few of the positive things cited in the bill:

  • 30 million people will be able to get coverage.
  • Pre-existing conditions will be covered, immediately for children and by 2014 for adults.
  • Dropping someone from insurance because they got sick, also known as rescission, will be outlawed.
  • Medicaid will be expanded to cover more Americans who are uninsured.
  • Insurers will have to spend at least 80 percent of every premium dollar on health care. Currently the insurance corporations spend around 60 percent, meaning almost two-fifths of the premiums you pay goes to CEO salaries, administrative costs and profits.
  • The bill reduces the deficit.

Then there is the list of problems, which include:

  • No public option, so the 30 million who will now gain coverage will be served up as customers to the insurance industry.
  • Taxes on so-called "Cadillac" health plans - that term is really a slam at comprehensive health plans. The labor movement says such taxes will affect one out of every five workers.
  • Ridiculous additional restrictions on a woman's reproductive health choices.

If you like to use the opposition's reaction to measure whether something is positive for working America, then Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's statement is instructive. After calling the bill a "monstrosity" he said, "Make no mistake - this bill will reshape our nation and our lives."

And perhaps that's because for the first time in 15 years this "good bill," according to Matt Ygelsias at Think Progress, represents a "return of the idea that Congress should be trying to pass major legislation that tackles major national problems. And even beyond that, it restores an even longer-lost tradition of Congress trying to pass major legislation on specifically progressive priorities." 

To which economist Paul Krugman agreed and added, "More than that, it represents a rejection of the view that the solution for all problems is to cut some taxes and remove some regulations. In that sense, what's happening now, for all the disappointment it represents for progressives, is a historic moment."

There will be changes in the course of matching the Senate bill with the House bill, which has a public option and places a surcharge tax on the wealthiest, instead of on workers' health plans, to help pay for the cost.

Krugman said progressives will have the opportunity to "push for bigger subsidies; stronger exchanges; a reinstated public option; stronger cost controls. Some of these things can be done through reconciliation. Having this bill in place will make it easier, not harder, to do these things than having passed nothing."

And having something rather than nothing is perhaps the most significant victory for working-class America. Why? Because with the 2010 elections coming up, an economy that doesn't create jobs, and an ultra-right GOP that will do anything and everything, no matter how un-American, to ruin the Obama presidency, it was essential for the White House and the Democratic majority in Congress to get something done.

An e-mail from Ellen Malcolm, the head of Emily's List, a group dedicated to getting more Democratic pro-choice women elected to Congress, was instructive. Malcolm turned the disappointment and anger over the compromise on the abortion provision into a rallying call to elect more women to Congress.

In other words, work to improve the balance of forces in the Congress in a better, more progressive direction to help improve the lives of the overwhelming multiracial, multigenerational majority of this country.

Change won't come easy, Barack Obama said during his campaign. It's as much about the engagement of the millions who support Obama and what he stands for as it is about him. Isn't that what he said all along?

So you claim your victories, you brush off your defeats and you move on to fight another day.

Because politics ain't beanbag.

Photo by B. Tal http://www.flickr.com/photos/b-tal/ / CC BY-NC 2.0


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • I support any bill that will lighten the load on workers and their families regardless of its shortcomings. I am quite sure the Democrat's bill will help millions. The question has been and still is what to do next. The Maine AFL-CIO has provided an answer in their call for a labor summit to map a strategy to win single payer national health insurance. It is so well argued and stated not much more needs saying except to ask that your union to endorse it.

    Wayne Nealis

    Posted by WayneN, 12/26/2009 2:13pm (6 years ago)

  • I agree with your analysis. Passing the Senate Bill with all its problems and promises is an historic achievement for the people. As for those who only talk about the shortcomings of this legislation, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. With the Bill going into conference our focus should be on what we can do to make it better and not on throwing our hands up and yelling "we've been defeated!" We can look back at yesterday but we can't go back. Now its fighting time, not crying time.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 12/25/2009 2:37am (6 years ago)

  • Sen Nelson needs a penalectomy then he can tell women what to do
    The millionairs of Congress should make minimum wage with NO HEALTH
    I thought there was a Law against Racketeering
    So why do these congresspeople support the racketeers of Pharma, Insurance, and the AMA???


    Posted by j. h, 12/23/2009 4:05pm (6 years ago)

  • It is doubtful Harold Washington would have supported this legislation and it is dishonest you imply this.

    Perhaps you should have asked poor people what they think about this legislation.

    No matter how you look at this legislation only the insurance companies benefit.

    Maybe you and those supporting this legislation could explain how you will benefit so we have real life examples to work from. Unless your only reason for supporting this legislation is to back Barack Obama.

    Posted by Lilly, 12/23/2009 11:20am (6 years ago)

  • This is a very excellent article that explains,explains,explains so we can clearly explain and motivate individuals and communities to action on health care.
    It uses the "down home" wisdom of a known hero of democracy and working-class anti-racism in the flesh,the revered,Harold Washington,and his valiant history of uniting working people and working people of color.
    Emphasizing the multigenerational and multinational nature of the millions who put us in the fight for" health care as a human right" (as an African American union leader here calls it)and encouraging feminists to vigorously join the fight,in an electoral way,leads us to a progressive future,worthy of the past struggle that put President Obama in the White House to enforce and execute law for politically active working people.
    The reality in which working people find themselves in is not vulgarized but popularized for intensified struggle,
    our heritages.
    Moreover,it is excellent articles like this which document struggle,lessons,gains and adjustments,for progress for people.
    Thank you Theresa.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/22/2009 7:53pm (6 years ago)

  • I've always found it hard to understand why Americans have put up with a private health care system that so obviously fails to deliver. The vast majority of people in the UK would not swap the National Health Service for a private alternative, and no political party would dare to openly advocate doing so. Looking at the American system, with over 40 million people without health care cover, it makes me appreciate the NHS which is always there to provide care whatever my circumstances - comprehensive health care cover from the cradle to the grave. Whatever the shortcomings of the bill before the Senate it is a step in the right direction as your article makes clear.

    Dick Graham

    Posted by Dick Graham, 12/22/2009 4:18pm (6 years ago)

  • Well stated summation and an excellent reminder that the fight is not over. Most of us realized we wouldn't get all we wanted all at once. I'm going to direct my angst and disappointment toward the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who refused to stand up for workers and took the side of the insurance companies. There is no sense in berating those who voted for the bill...

    Posted by Lisa Casey Perry, 12/22/2009 1:13pm (6 years ago)

  • Stated like a true social democrat. Amy Dean couldn't have written a better analysis.

    Gina Gianlorenzi
    Pittsburgh PA

    Posted by Gina Gianlorenzi , 12/21/2009 9:56pm (6 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments