German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once famously remarked that observing the legislative process was like watching sausage being made. As I made my annual Christmas trek northward this year to the Germanic heartland of the Midwest I couldn’t help but think of Bismarck’s analogy when thinking of the healthcare debate.
We’ve witnessed the entrails and the casings and the other nastiness associated with sausage er lawmaking – public options and Medicare buy-ins and death panels and Liebermans and teabaggers and Stupak Amendments and other assorted unpleasantness. And for some the end product will be too spicy. For others too bland. For others the taste of beer will be too unboiled for taste. And for yet others the various and assorted spices for this year’s bratwurst will prove unsatisfying.
But for me, this health care bill looks like the Sheboygan bratwurst I’ve come to love at the annual Wisconsin State Fair. I have no idea how the guys put that meaty masterpiece together each August but I know that in the end it serves me well. Yes, this health care piece of sausage is a winner. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn point out the substantive benefits of this bill.
Like most pieces of sausage it ain’t perfect. It doesn’t have the public option – not to mention single payer – that would make the Alsatian masterpiece I was hungering for. But it’s a hugely important first step in the long process of providing universal healthcare for the American people.
If Otto von Bismarck could pass the beginnings of universal health care for the German people in 1883 – yes, the 19th century – surely we could accomplish the same a mere 116 years later.
Future Congresses will be fixing the holes in this bill. They will buttress the exchanges, and supplement Medicaid, and expand prescription coverage, and boost non-basic care.
The most important piece of this legislation is the principle. For the first time in American history the US Congress will have established that health care is a right afforded to all Americans. Not a Constitutional right, granted, but a commonly agreed upon right nonetheless – just like Medicare and Social Security.
The whole thing could blow up in Conference Committee, of course. But that seems unlikely at this point. When Nelson joined on the deal was essentially sealed. President Obama’s signature domestic goal will be passed. This Congress will have achieved something that no Congress in 100 years has done. The tea party libertarians on the right and the progressive purity activists on the left will oppose the bill for their own reasons. But make no mistake, this is a HUGE accomplishment for the Democratic Congress and for President Obama. And when the newspapers across the land spell out the various benefits of the bill in the coming days the acrimony will die down (certainly on the left) and Democrats will benefit, Matthew Dowd be damned. The could-have-beens will be forgotten or rolled into next year’s agenda. The malcontents will be just as angry as ever. And the public will recognize why the Republicans fought this so hard – because once the distortions and the acrimony is stripped away this bill provides what the American people have longed for for a very long time. Don’t believe the negative polls on the bill up to now – most of that is based on the overheated rhetoric and not on the substance of the bill. Expect progressives to rally behind the bill, and centrists to be relieved that Congress can focus on other matters. Conservatives will be as angry as always, but the Democrats will now have an accomplishment that no prior Democratic Congress has ever possessed.
Now pass the sauerkraut and mustard!