In the Battle of Waterloo, Democrats are prepared to surrender. After Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) issued his battle cry to the Democrats in August, President Obama aptly responded by noting “this isn’t about me,” but rather, it’s about “a health care system that is breaking America’s families.” “We can’t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care — not this time, not now,” Obama added. But today, Democrats — just inches from the goal-line — are indeed prepared to take a knee, run out the clock, and renege on their promise of seeing health care reform through completion.
Learning the wrong lessons from a Massachusetts election, Democrats are finding difficulty motivating their solid majorities in the House and Senate to finish what they started. The outcome in Massachusetts didn’t change the basic fundamental questions: Can we afford the status quo, and is the current reform bill better than doing nothing at all?
Last year, Senate and House Democrats pledged to fix the broken health care system and put the nation on a sustainable economic path by repeatedly voting for change. If they’re still committed to that goal, then passing the Senate health care bill alongside a reconciliation package to improve the underlining legislation and address popular concerns is the only way to achieve the change voters demanded in 2008.
Trying to pass a scaled-back version of reform would drag out the process, fail to substantially lower costs or improve access, and do so without any assurance that it will be any more popular in Congress. Democrats therefore have two choices: pass an improved version of the Senate health care bill or abandon the effort altogether. If Democrats chose the latter, millions more Americans would go without health care and health care costs would continue to skyrocket. Politically, the Democratic Party will be ridiculed for talking a big game but delivering no results. They will lose their progressive base and outsource their agenda to the Republican minority — all simply because their supermajority of 60 shrank to 59.
Democrats are hesitant to vote again for an unpopular health care bill. They fear that the Massachusetts elections are a bellwether of the upcoming midterms. Change of the magnitude envisioned by health care reformers certainly does not come easily. As President Obama said in March, “To kick these problems down the road for another four years or another eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point. That’s not why I ran for this office. I didn’t come here to pass on our problems to the next President or the next generation — I came here to solve them.”
The Democrats have an opportunity to improve health care for millions of Americans. They will regret squandering this moment if they cannot regroup now.