Monday, March 22, 2010

The things that divide us ...

An insurance reform bill (not a healthcare reform bill) is finally ready for the president's signature. Last night, the House of Representatives passed the Senate's version of health insurance reform, fighting for every vote they could get. Does it seem strange to anyone else that Congress needs to fight for votes? People talk about obstructionist Republicans and all the "roadblocks" they place in the way of reform, but the truth is much more ... complicated.

First, there are far more Democrats in Congress than there are Republicans. I don't think I actually need to remind anyone of that, but the way some pundits and bloggers talk and write, you'd think right-wingers were the only ones who had problems with the bill last night. I heard a guest, I can't remember his name, on CNN say this vote had demonstrated a "coalition" had formed. The only problem I have with that statement is he meant a coalition had formed in support of the bill, when in reality, the coalition had formed in opposition to it. 34 Democrats joined every Republican in the House in voting "no". Mere hours before the vote was held, the number of Democrats opposed to the bill was much higher, and it was only after many meetings with and many concessions from President Obama and Speaker Pelosi that the number of "yes" votes outnumbered the "no" votes.

And yet, both the president and the speaker spoke about how they were able to transcend politics and partisanism. The evidence is against them, unfortunately. I can't recall a single instance in 2009 of any high-level meeting between the president and Republican leaders in Congress on the subject of insurance reform. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but the only meetings I can remember them having on this issue were after Scott Brown was elected Senator in Massachusetts.

Since that election, the public has received an education on a host of legislative maneuvers that hardly anyone had ever heard of before. Terms like "Senate parliamentarian", "reconciliation process", and "deem and pass" weren't even on the general public's radar six months ago; but now, anyone who has a problem with the bill that was passed is virtually fluent in "Washingtonese". Why so suddenly? Because ever since the Senate lost its filibuster-proof majority, Democrats in Congress have been exploring every option they have to pass insurance reform (every option, that is, besides holding serious negotiations with Republicans). Have these tactics been used before? Sometimes; but never on something so sweeping and "transformative".

"Historic" is the word the president uses; and he's right. This is the first time in history the federal government has ever required American citizens to purchase anything. No paper less than the Washington Post has questioned whether the Constitution even grants the government power to create such a mandate. Virginia's legislature has already created a law, signed by Governor McDonnell, making it illegal in the Commonwealth for the federal government to mandate purchasing insurance. The Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, is already filing papers to challenge the constitutionality of the bill that passed Congress last night. Multiple states are considering or have already enacted similar measures. This could be one of the greatest challenges between the States and the federal government since the Civil War.

The consequences of this bill's passage could go far beyond the legal arena (though it's hard to overstate the importance of states' powers versus federal powers). We are fewer than eight months away from an election that could completely shift the balance of power in Washington (again). A mere fifteen hours since the final vote was tallied, the website has raised approximately half a million dollars to defeat enough Democratic incumbents to tilt the House of Representatives back into Republican control; though, given how close the vote was, you'd hardly need to win that many seats to block further legislation.

I could go on forever about the substantive issues in this bill; it is over 2,700 pages, after all. And, as I indicated, not all the objections to it come from Republicans. My own representative, Congressman Glenn Nye, issued a statement the night before the vote detailing why he would vote "no". Among his objections were potential problems for TRICARE recipients and cuts to children's hospitals, issues that are particularly important to Hampton Roads. However, no matter how reasoned and principled his objections, angry proponents of the bill can't keep civil about it. He's been accused of selling out and even of being a closet Republican. One comment asked who he expected to support him in the coming election, apparently implying that no Democrat would (or should) vote for him after something like this.

But isn't this exactly what we should demand of our elected officials? That they do what's right, regardless of the cost to their candidacy? Certainly, President Obama has made that case numerous times throughout the insurance reform debate. Rep. Nye, in his statement, shows he did exactly what a representative should do: he spoke with "countless small business owners, families, medical professionals, and average citizens across Virginia's 2nd District, and it became very clear that this bill was not the right solution for Virginia's health care challenges." There were no "out of control townhalls" or "backroom deals" to influence his vote; just a simple, straightforward examination of the bill and what it would mean for the people of his district. That's a Congressman I can see myself supporting in eight months.

I'm not a partisan. I don't care which party holds power in Washington or anywhere else in this country. I care about one thing: no matter who holds power or how much of it they hold, they're willing to work with all sides to find the right solutions. What did I see on C-SPAN, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC last night? I saw the Left coming together with the Far Left to pass a bill that the vast majority of Americans, business owners, medical professionals, and even politicians personally oppose; and I saw the Right coming together with the Middle and even parts of the Left to work to defeat it. I saw a coalition, true enough; but it wasn't led by the president, this time.

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