By John A. Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Democratic Party (God-willing, the creek don't rise and Robert Byrd avoids a fatal cold) is about to give millions of hard-working American families a holiday gift of historic proportion. With all its imperfections, the Democratic healthcare bill is a triumph of political perseverance, and a sturdy foundation on which future generations can continue to build an efficient, modern, universal American healthcare system. But in the near term the legislation is, most of all, a godsend for the "little guys" and gals that the Democratic Party has, throughout our history, claimed to champion. Working class families that play by the rules and slave and sweat to make ends meet are about to receive $900 billion in aid from the rest of us.
No one deserves it more.
This one goes out to the single and the working moms, the supermarket and department store clerks, the nursing home nurses, the non-union carpenters and plumbers and factory workers, the floor-washers and pre-school teachers and bus drivers and the rest—to all those Americans who work one or two or three jobs to pay the rent or the mortgage and keep the kids in Frosted Flakes and school clothes and community college.
The poor have Medicaid. The old have Medicare. High-earners, with good salaries and benefits, have subsidized healthcare insurance. The folks who need this bill—now—are the millions who work like dogs to stay off the dole, but don't get adequate medical care. They put off going to the doctor; they can't afford the tests and prescription drugs; by the time they get to see the oncologist, or the cardiologist, too often it's too late.
To these families, a true catastrophe—the end of their American Dream—is just one workplace accident, early and aggressive cancer, or debilitating disease away.
Goodbye to the kitchen remodeling, the new stove or car. Goodbye to the kids' college fund. Goodbye to the money painstakingly saved for a more secure retirement. Hello to bankruptcy, terror and humiliation.
And that is what the rest of us get out of this, too. We may not face those terrors now, but we know that, in our economy, the risk of such a tumble has soared, and reaches into the middle class.
The libertarian argument, offered by the opposition, is that a social welfare system, larded with such entitlements, inhibits a dynamic economy and the freedom of individuals. I don't buy it. Not in this case. Health is too basic a need; too vital a pre-requisite for daring, creativity and exploration.
Besides, the exorbitant inefficiencies in our current system demand systematic reform. How many U.S. jobs have been lost to foreign competition as our healthcare costs rose above those of our economic rivals?
From the other side of the political spectrum, a few gliberals gripe that the Democrats have traded away too much in the haggling over the bill, and should trash it and start over. These are very silly people and no one should pay attention to them. Their argument presupposes that at some date in the magical future, the Democrats will have 65 or 70 seats in the U.S. Senate, or that the conservative electorates of Louisiana and Nebraska and other centrist states will ditch the Mary Landrieus and Ben Nelsons of the Senate in favor of Lefties like Barbara Boxer or Pat Leahy.
Not likely. And if that day ever does arrive, we can all add a public option then.
So. Good for you, Democrats. For soldiering it on, and for getting it done. For making the political system work, and renewing our faith in its possibilities. And don't you die on us now.
You folks wove the American safety net and—the Republicans currently mesmerized by their peculiar fantasies—it's your responsibility to keep government current and tuned, vital and efficient. Have a great holiday, take heart from what you have accomplished, come back and get the health bill passed and signed, and confront the next challenges—jobs and debt—with equal fervor and dedication. Show us what else you've got.
Do that, and keep us safe, and this presidency may be historic in more ways than one.