If anyone needed an explanation of why George Washington thought political parties would be a disaster for the country, they need only look at the cloture vote in the Senate last night that brought debate on the health care reform bill to an impending halt on Christmas Eve night.
There are 40 Republicans in the U.S. Senate. There were 40 votes against ending the debate, which has been going on for nearly a year.
Can anyone truly believe that all 40 Republicans were voting on principle instead of party? Was there really not enough reform in a bill that extends health care coverage to over 30 million Americans for not a single Republican to support it?
Perhaps my Republican friends would turn the question around and ask me, was there truly not a single one of the 58 Democrats or two Independents who found enough flaws in the bill to vote against it?
My answer is – and I mean this – that , in this case at least, Democrats voted on principle and Republicans voted for no reason other than to achieve petty party advantage.
To be sure, the Republican criticism that the bill does too little to control costs is valid. So is the charge that a number of free-market measures to increase competition in the health insurance marketplace could have been included that weren’t. And as I’ve argued before, the Democrats’ unwillingness to entertain even cosmetic attempts at tort reform, delivers the Republicans a powerful debating point on a silver platter.
Some of the other Republican arguments amount to nothing but crocodile tears. Their outrage over the concessions made to Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) ignores the fact that the votes of those two senators were made decisive only because the Republicans voted en masse against everything, leaving a few Democrats and the prima donna Independent of all times, Joe Lieberman (I-CT), in position to wield an unconscionable amount of leverage.
Sure, the vote was along party lines in both parties. Technically, that can be explained by the fact that, on principle, Democrats tilt toward sympathizing with the needs of people who lack health care over the privileges of profit-making corporations, while Republicans are biased toward free-enterprise markets over the needs of individual consumers.
If there were ever a compelling need for government to protect the interest of vulnerable consumers, it would be the way that health care is rationed under our current system to only those who can afford it and are currently employed, or who belong to an entitlement group (Medicare, veterans, the military).
If there were ever a profit-bloated industry making money off the misery of others, it is the health insurance corporations, which spend about 30% of premium incomes on lavish executive salaries, stockholder dividends, and lobbying (none of which are required by Medicare, Tri-care, Medicaid, or any other government-run program). Their stock prices, by the way, reached a 52-week high on Friday.
So Democrats vote for the consumers, and Republicans vote for the well-endowed.
Readers of this column know that generally I avoid doctrinaire positions and confrontational language like this, but on this issue, those are my honest feelings and I don’t know a gentle way to put it.
The opponents of health care reform have no concept of gentility. In August, they bussed in thugs from all over the country to turn what should have been rational discourse at town hall meetings into shouting matches. Throughout the fall, they perpetuated myths of the most outlandish nature – from death panels, to pulling the plug on grandma, to comparisons between Obama and Hitler. In December, with more decorum but no less malevolence, they employed in the chambers of Congress every diversionary tactic and bald-faced lie they could think of to delay final passage. But they failed.
That the ultimate failure by opponents of health care reform to kill the bill came along party-line votes is no surprise, but is a great shame, for it only reflects the degree to which we have become polarized in this country. The Republican party has moved so far to the Right, that it has pushed those of us who would like to think of ourselves as reasonable and balanced progressives to the Left, just so the country could somehow hold on to the Center.
Wouldn’t it be a lot better if we all voted just for principle instead of party? We would still end up somewhere in the Center – more of our citizens would have health care, the insurance industry would still be in business (with executive bonuses perhaps at 1 or 2 million instead of 10 or 20 million), government would provide a safety net for the vulnerable but wouldn’t control the enterprise, and we could regain our faith in the ability of the country to act together for the collective good of all.
That’s all George Washington would have asked for.