The Way Forward


At the leadership press conference earlier today, Senator Tom Harkin acknowledged the disappointment of supporters of the public option and other key progressive priorities, and promised that “this is the beginning of health reform, not the end of health reform.”

It’s a reminder that even though this past week on the internet has been full of disputes between progressive friends of this bill and its progressive foes, that’s only a very transient divide. The real divide is between the Joe Liebermans and Ben Nelsons and Al Froms of the world who are 100 percent happy with how this turned out and the Matt Yglesiases and Marcy Wheelers and Tom Harkins who are not. And the crucial question going forward is whether it will be possible to further improve this legislation.

I think it’s very possible, but only if the people who are disappointed by the shortcomings of this bill take appropriate action. First and foremost, that means working as hard as possible to produce as good an outcome as possible in the 2010 midterm elections. Recall that before 2006, SCHIP expansion couldn’t pass the Senate. And before 2008, SCHIP expansion could pass the Senate but couldn’t get signed into law by the President. Elections have consequences. Starting in January 2011 we might have new progressive senators representing Ohio, New Hampshire, and Missouri or we might have new conservative senators representing Nevada, Delaware, and Connecticut. This is a very big deal. Has Ned Lamont been able to beat Joe Lieberman back in 2006, this might have had a happier ending this year. Elections have consequences.

Beyond that, everyone needs to contact their member of congress, their senators, and any senators or members of congress they’ve volunteered for or donated to. I think people don’t believe me when I say this, but letters from constituents matter a lot on the Hill. They matter to Democrats and they matter to Republicans. So get in touch. Tell people that you support further expansion of public programs, that you support tighter regulation on insurance companies, that you support more generous subsidies, that you support higher taxes on the wealthy, and all the rest.

But don’t stop there. Tell them you want to see the filibuster curbed or abolished. Show you’re informed and mention Jeff Merkley. Tell any Democratic Senators who may support you that you want the caucus to adopt discipline-enhancing rules about committee and subcommittee chairmanships.

I’m sure there are other action-items people can think of. But I wanted to make clear that my point about Weber this morning wasn’t just that people should meekly accept compromises. It’s that you accept compromises and then keep on working to build more political power. You do it by contacting members. You do it by urging friends and colleagues to contact members. You do it by donating to and volunteering for good candidates. You do it by turning out and voting for the better candidate in the race even when that candidate is disappointing. You do it by urging viable candidates to mount risky primary challenges against incumbents who don’t reflect the real possibilities of their constituency. You do it by staying engaged, and working hard.

I think this is an excellent bill, all things considered, but whether you agree with that or not the most important thing is what does the progressive community do going forward to enact even better bills in the future.