Pass health reform now.
Progressives' response to the health reform debate will affect negotiations now—and even more, what happens for the next several years. With that in mind, we should call for Congressional negotiators to improve the bill as much as they can, and then pass whatever results.
In expressing his completely justified frustration with the legislative product of the Senate's internal debates on health care, James on Friday linked to the New York Times' Bob Herbert's critical analysis of one of the bill's provisions. Herbert rips the Senate's bill for its reliance on a health insurance excise tax.
As Herbert points out, if the bill's effective level on insurance values to be taxed stays the same over time, it could eventually produce a harmful tax level impacting middle-class households. That's so if the provision's flaws are not fixed either now, or at some point in the future.
I've also gone back and forth on the health reform legislation staggering its way through Congress. I fully support House negotiators in fixing whatever can be fixed in the Senate's version--although I'm cognizant too that on some points, including the abortion provisions and the principle of mandating that minimum percentages of premiums go to the costs of providing care, the Senate version is better.
To the extent that Herbert is helping set the plate for House negotiators to leverage higher ceilings on the health insurance excise tax kick-in level, then more power to him.
However, on the implicit conclusion that the bill as a whole should be deep-sixed if that provision can't be fixed immediately, he's wrong.
Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post succinctly lays out why here:
In sum, the inevitable result of the House/Senate negotiations on health reform will be an ugly patchwork with a jewel at its heart: that every American, regardless of income or age, is entitled to affordable access to decent health care.
For all its real and serious flaws, the bill will make substantial progress toward implementing that principle almost immediately. It will also provide real work and real opportunity to make ongoing improvements over a period of years or a decade. It's a start that helps tens of millions of people within the next four years.
The ugly flaws within the bill will immediately and for years to come be the proper target of legislative amendments and improvements. Some can take place in budget bills and riders to other must-pass legislation. There will be real opportunities to pass those amendments and improvements.
Unfortunately, there is going to be no other real opportunity any time soon to pass an overall reform attempt. Certainly not in the next three years, or the next seven for that matter. If this bill fails now, the entire topic of health insurance reform will be politically radioactive for a very long time.
Kill the bill now, and we've lost the opportunity to start, for another generation. Obama understands that, and so do the Senators and Representatives who we know believe in health care for all. Not the Liebermans and the Nelsons--a pox on their houses--but the Harkins, Shumers, Pelosis, Franks.
We need to take the flawed start that still constitutes a historic achievement, and help for millions of people, and keep fighting for better. That's what progress is all about.