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



Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano had been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor, and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by the International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women, and Illinois Woman Press Association.