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Posted by on Dec 25, 2009 in Economy, Health, Media, Politics, Society | 22 comments

A Stunning Achievement

Who knew that Harry Reid had the kind of steel in his spine that it took to get health care reform through the Senate? If anyone had told me a year ago that he would have the fortitude, perseverance, toughness, and sheer guts that it took to pass this legislation against the implacable, uncompromising opposition and nihilistic obstructionism of Senate Republicans, I would have fallen on the floor laughing. In Ezra Klein’s words, “Harry Reid has much to be proud of today.”

Here is the reaction round-up that I was not able to get to yesterday. I know that Joe did a roundup of news coverage and blogger commentary yesterday, soon after the early morning vote, so I will try to hit different sources and not duplicate Joe’s work.

Nate Silver at has the nutshell analysis:

The bill is noteworthy both for the massive commitment it makes — close to $200 billion per year in public subsidies to poor, sick, and uninsured people — and also because it was passed in the face of fairly strong public opposition.

As a piece of policy, it is assuredly imperfect, although some of the conservative and liberal criticisms alike have been based on misinformation and half-truths. It is principally a coverage bill, expected to extend insurance to 30 million Americans, rather than a cost-containment one, which would probably have required more fundamental alterations to the status quo’s employer-based insurance system.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon  on the possibilities of being both radical and practical:

Anyway, the point is that I’m The Left—I hate corporate sellouts, I think the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea, I’ve got big time socialist leanings—and I’m far more into the “eh, we’re not going to get anything better by killing it, and killing it would be criminally negligent, so let’s calm down” camp.

The reason is that I read arguments like this or this or this and think that they make their case, full stop.  One of our bloggers at Pandagon—Auguste—has written before about how he pays 19% of his income to an insurance company, and so the anger that you may have to pay 8% of your income to an insurance company rings a little hollow to me as a complaint.  That would be a massive cost savings to Auguste, should he be able to benefit.  (Right now, this is mostly aimed at the uninsured, so people who are going through employers have a different shakeout.) I agree with the defenders that we have to work with the Senate we have, and not the Senate we want.


We shouldn’t despair of this task; we have had remarkable achievements in a short period of time, which is why Obama got to be President in the first place.  But we need to understand that there will never be a time to rest on our laurels, and therefore it’s not some sort of betrayal of our deeply held beliefs to allow that “better than nothing” is better than nothing.

Jon Perr reminds us of why Republicans were (and are) so keen to deep-six this bill — and it isn’t because they believe the American people will hate the Democrats for passing it. I mean, come on, folks.

Senate passage of the health care bill this morning naturally brought fond remembrances of reform’s long time champion, Ted Kennedy. While his successor Paul Kirk announced, “He’s having a merry Christmas in heaven,” Kennedy’s long-time Massachusetts colleague John Kerry concurred, “Ted Kennedy is up there smiling.”But back here on earth, it’s worth remembering why his Republican opponents waged an all-out war for four decades to block Ted Kennedy’s dream of universal health care for the American people from ever being realized. At the end of the day, what Kennedy’s close friend Orrin Hatch declared a “holy war” wasn’t a crusade against “socialism”, a “government takeover of health care”, “rationing”, “the doctor-patient relationship” or mythical “death panels.”

It was all about politics. More than anything else, Republicans wanted to prevent an enduring Democratic majority. We know this, because Orrin Hatch and so many of his GOP allies told us so.

Bruce Drake of Politics Daily has a related piece on why negative poll results on health care reform don’t necessarily mean what they seem to mean:

Republicans and other critics of health care overhaul have seized on poll numbers reflecting public opposition and unease to accuse President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders of trying to ram through a measure that Americans don’t want.But but these snapshots of public opinion aren’t necessarily good indicators of how voters will feel later about the legislation and what impact it will have on next year’s midterm elections, opinion experts say.

Pollsters such as Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center say it’s not surprising that public opinion has taken a negative turn. “When you have unified and vehement criticism of the legislation from one side, and division and heated debate among the other side, it’s no wonder that much of the public is ambivalent or downright negative about it,” he said. “I see little prospect that this will change unless and until supporters of reform agree on a bill and then promote it enthusiastically to the country.”

Drake goes on to connect this to why Democrats were so determined to get the health care reform bill out of the Senate before Christmas (and by extension why Republicans wanted to prevent them from doing so at all costs):

There is no question that the contentious debate in Washington is taking its toll on public opinion. While Keeter of the Pew Research Center says, “Our polling throughout the year has shown that the public supports most of the key provisions in the draft legislation,” that dynamic will change if the debate is drawn out too long. It’s no surprise, then, that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have pushed so hard to get the Senate bill done by Christmas.

Matthew Yglesias is woo-hooing:

The health care bill passed! As you know, my view is this: For all its flaws, if signed into law this bill would be the greatest progressive social policy achievement in over forty years. It’s fine not to be satisfied with this legislation, but it’s perverse not to be happy about it. The important thing is to try to make sure that we don’t need to wait another forty years before additional major improvements become possible.

Barbara O’Brien has lots of interesting links, as well as this notation on the individual mandate:

Some recent commenters seem to think that the mandates are only in place because the private insurers wanted them, and that I support them only because I’m a mean person who wants to force people to buy expensive insurance policies. There is actually a solid and rational reason why there have to be mandates. Also, Joshua Holland has a good article on the mandates at AlterNet, in which he provides data showing how much people will have to pay for their insurance. I think you will find this information reassuring.

Via Steve Benen, Kevin Drum shares his thoughts on why this should feel like a victory, even if it doesn’t:

I’m 51 years old and this bill is, without question, the biggest progressive advance in my adult life. You have to go back to the great environmental acts of the early 70s to get close, and to the civil rights/Medicare era to beat it. That’s four decades, the last three of which have constituted an almost unbroken record of conservative ascendency. And now that ascendancy is just days away from being — finally, decisively — broken.


A trillion dollars in benefit for low and middle income workers. 95% of Americans insured. Medical bankruptcies on the verge of disappearing. And for the first time ever, an acknowledgement that decent healthcare ought to be universal in the United States. This is historic. This is a cause for celebration, not recriminations. As recently as 2005, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see this day, and now, a mere three years later, it’s here. I can still hardly believe it.

My sentiments, exactly.

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  • JSpencer

    Kathy, I agree the bill is better passed than not passed, but I’m not feeling the celebratory vibe. For one thing I’m disgusted with the right for their sociopathic approach to the problem to begin with, and for another, it seems the bar was bumped down pretty low for a democrat victory. That healthcare isn’t yet considered a basic human right in this country is shameful. So yes, a step has been taken in the right direction, but it should really only be considered a foothold at this point. We really need to work on raising our standards for achievement in this country.

  • kathykattenburg

    Well, I suppose you could flip that around and feel celebratory precisely because the United States is so shamefully backward in its failure to recognize healthcare as a basic human right. Considering how incredibly entrenched that mind-set is, and how powerful the political forces arrayed against any kind of national healthcare ever passing, the vote on Christmas Eve morning just feels miraculous.

    Having said this, however, it’s just a different emphasis, a different facet of the reality you describe. And I really can’t find anything to argue with in what you say.

  • westbrook26

    Very nice article about medical insurance industry. But you could get medical insurance for your entire family at the best price from if you spent few mins you can find a good plan.

  • redbus

    I’m no fan of big government, but something needs to be done about health care. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction. When the private sector stubbornly refuses to police itself, and leaves in place draconian measures like the “pre-existing condition” clause, then government should step-in. Let this be a wake-up call to Blue Cross and co. They’ve got a couple years to get their act together, or else we will have full-blown single-payer health care.

    • merkin

      I have been curious through this entire debate to have someone explain why this bill is in any way an expansion of the the government’s role in health care. This bill will dramatically expand the role of the private, for profit insurance industry in health care. Primarily by providing them with a 450 billion dollar subsidy from the federal government and its tax payers.

      This in spite of the fact that the mess we are currently is largely the result of expanding the role of the private, for profit insurance companies’ role in health care in the 1990’s. And their decision to pursue maximum profits rather than fulfill the need in the United States for low cost effective health care for the widest range of people was simple bad judgment and not an integral part of business.

      It’s as if we are saying that yes, you have pillaged, plundered, raped and looted us but if we give you a lot more money will you stop?

      • kathykattenburg

        It’s as if we are saying that yes, you have pillaged, plundered, raped and looted us but if we give you a lot more money will you stop?

        The point is that they are going to be regulated, Merkin. Yes, they get 30 million new customers, but they cannot discriminate on the basis of preexisting conditions. They have to sell all customers the same basic insurance policy at the same price. That’s for starters; there’s a lot more to the bill, of course.

        Obviously, you and I and a whole lot of other Americans would have vastly preferred to have either a public option or a Medicare expansion option in there, but Lieberman and Nelson made that impossible.

  • $199537

    I give Reid credit for being able to pull this together, and of course being able to extend insurance coverage to millions that are currently uninsured is a good thing.

    From a financial standpoint though the bill is a bloated dishonest mess that will increase the deficit and does nothing to reduce the cost of health care. We need to see how this turns out in practice before lionizing Reid.

    • Dr J

      We need to see how this turns out in practice before lionizing Reid.

      Very true, DaGoat. Statements like Matthew Yglesias’s, lauding it as the greatest progressive social policy achievement in 40 years, make me worry that progressives are not using the same yardstick as everyone else–that is, whether it actually makes the health care system work better. To hear Yglesias tell it, the spending of the public’s money is itself the achievement.

    • dduck12

      I agree, and it should be more like ferretizing Reid. He should have worn a red suit for all of last month he stuffed enough stockings with goodies. But as my liberal friends say: that’s the legislative system (shrug).

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  • casualobserver

    Liberal bloggers have not reacted kindly to Klein. TalkLeft says that Klein’s analysis is the “type of silly stuff [that] does no one any good – not Obama, not Ezra, and not anyone else.” Emptywheel methodically dissects Klein’s sloppy analysis. And Firedoglake has compiled a side-by-side analysis of Obama’s promises and the Senate bill, concluding that Klein’s argument is “absurd.”

    Let’s hope the House shows some “steel in their spine” during reconciliation.

    • JSpencer

      Just out of curiosity, what would that “steel” look like to you??

  • jkremmers

    I can’t believe what I am reading. The thrust of what Kathy writes and links blames the Republicans for what evolved in the final version of the Senate bill. Fact is, no Republican voted for it nor the final version in the House. This is a proposed law cobbled together by Democrats only. To reach that point in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is described as having fortitude, spine and guts? Wrong. What he accomplished was solving a Rubic’s Cube by giving away the store and diluting Democratic principles for universal health care coverage. The abortion question not withstanding, the entire nation must pay for all of Nebraska’s Medicaid costs forever, Vermont’s free health clinics for six years, $3 million to Louisiana and on and on and on. That didn’t take guts. Unless one interprets payoffs to win votes within his own caucus acts of fortitude.

    Give credit to Reid for doing the wheeling and dealing and getting the job done. Blame Reid’s own Democratic caucus if you don’t like the bill, not the Republicans. If passed after conference reconciliation, we buy a starter house with many improvements on the Honey Do list. Everything considered, the bill despite its warts and subsidies to private health insurance carriers, is better than the status quo. Whether it reduces costs is anyone’s guess. If not, we all might consider moving to Nebraska. — Jer

    • dduck12

      That didn’t take guts. Unless one interprets payoffs to win votes within his own caucus acts of fortitude”.

      That’s the view of the progressives. Sort of like: “at least he got the trains to run on time”.

  • casualobserver

    Here you go……..”The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago,” Slaughter wrote in an opinion piece.Slaughter argued that the Senate bill’s exclusion of a public option, along with abortion funding restrictions and other measures, make the bill undeserving of a vote.Specifically, Slaughter said, the Senate bill would charge seniors higher premiums and would not go far enough in extending coverage to people in the U.S.”Supporters of the weak Senate bill say ‘just pass it — any bill is better than no bill,’ ” Slaughter wrote. “I strongly disagree””It’s time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “The American people deserve at least that.”

  • merkin

    I certainly believe that Reid and company have gotten the most they could considering the unprecedented obstructionism of the opposition and the almost stunning inability of progressives to counter outright lies from the opposition, most of which were simply and predictability recycled from previous health care debates, irregardless of relevance.

  • Happy holidays, Kathy.

    I’m not happy with the bill, but reluctantly agree it’s better than nothing. Personally I wanted a federal government takeover of healthcare 😉

    The canard that Republicans didn’t seriously erode this bill is just that; a duck. The right, with its “death panel” nonsense, just for example, proved that we will be completely unable to make the tough decisions we would need to in order to lower health care costs. So in the end, Limbaugh, Palin and Beck aside, it is still the insurance companies who have the “death panels” and my hope is that the public will get sick of it, and them, eventually. For now, we must settle for what the corrupt Republicans, and the corrupt Dems, allowed to be in the final bill.

    • ProfElwood

      I blame the most of the “death panel” garbage on the Republicans also, but not all of it. In the end, the AMA, the pharmaceutical companies, and the rest of the medical profiteers don’t want limits until the entire economy collapses under their weight, so they would happily push for the death of those panels.

  • kathykattenburg

    Happy holidays to you, too, GD. It’s great to see you back here.

  • Leonidas

    LOL, “stunning achievement”. I guess bribes could be considered stunning if you didn’t know how Reid operates.

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