Guts and Glory
A Commentary by Susan Estrich
No Republicans supported Medicare in the House of Representatives until it reached the floor. It came out of the House Ways and Means and Rules committees on strict party-line votes. On the procedural vote that brought Medicare to a vote, exactly 10 Republicans voted for the bill. Only when it was clear that Democrats had the votes did it become a "bipartisan" bill, passing with the support of 70 Republicans and 237 Democrats.
In the Senate, 13 Republicans voted for Medicare; the rest of the votes came from Democrats.
Today, Medicare is the "third rail" in American politics. Republicans were, in a word, wrong -- wrong on the policy and wrong on the politics. They remained the minority party in the House for the next three decades.
Could the same thing happen with President Obama's health care reform bill? I think it could. Everyone has been fixated on the risks to Democrats -- whether or not it's good politics, whether they will pay in November. The political calculations tend to turn on which changes go into effect first and whether people will see benefits -- or costs -- by the time they vote in November.
Will parents who can keep their kids on their health insurance until they are 26 (a biggie for the middle class) reward the president? What about the fact that kids can't be excluded for pre-existing conditions? Those changes will happen quickly, while the additional taxes on the wealthiest Americans will not go into effect until 2014. Will the president be blamed for higher premiums that were escalating before the bill's passage, or will Democrats get credit for new incentives for small businesses to provide coverage? Time will tell.
But those are not the only factors to be considered.
There is, first of all, the question of conviction. I'm not an expert on health care policy. I didn't support Obama in the primaries. I'm as worried as the next person about how we're going to pay for it. But there is something I do understand and respect, and that is principle and courage in politics.
Obama and Nancy Pelosi have earned my respect and, I suspect, the respect of many others for displaying precisely those qualities under enormous fire. Against the loud voices of naysayers, against the drumbeat of polls, they did what they set out to do.
People say they want politicians to have the courage of their convictions, until they do. Pundits criticize political leaders for living by the polls, until they don't. Obama ran for president on the promise to enact comprehensive health care reform, and then he risked his presidency to do just that. Pelosi never backed down.
Sure, there were back-room deals and promises and compromises. Politics was played in Washington. In Las Vegas, they still gamble. But at the end of the day, the sausage was made, as promised. Whether or not you support this president and this bill, you have to admire the guts and determination of this president and this speaker. The president showed guts. In my book, he deserves the glory.
Republicans showed no guts. Not a single Republican has had the courage to cross the aisle. Not a single Republican has been willing to do anything but "just say no." "No" is not the answer to the health care crisis. "No" will not help parents of sick children; or parents of unemployed 20-somethings; or middle-class folks who can't find the good jobs that bring health insurance and can't afford the astronomical rates found in the individual market even for those without pre-existing conditions.
Republicans took the easy way out, as they continue to do this week, playing procedural games in the hopes of accomplishing exactly nothing. As Democrats have scrambled to fix the bill, to meet objections, to compromise even on issues many of us hold near and dear (abortion, the public option, etc.), Republicans have been willing to compromise on nothing.
And for this they expect to be rewarded by voters? I wouldn't be so sure. No guts, no glory. As for me, I'll take a party of conviction and courage over a bunch of naysayers and do-nothings any day.
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