Thoughts for the health reform end game

Medicare is part of the “socialized” health coverage that the people who have it don’t want to give up, but many Republicans want to deny the rest of us who work for ourselves or have the gall to have a preexisting condition.

David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, cast the health reforms as a “values question” for America. He wrote last week, “The bottom line is that we face a brutal choice. Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.”

I beg to differ.  At a friend’s party last week, the conversation turned to health care reform.  The guests were mainly entrepreneurial-types whose ideologies were scattered across the political spectrum. When I brought up the notion of a more “middle-aged, civilized and sedate” society, there rose a clamor. Just about every person in the room had a spouse or a significant other who at some point had stayed in a less than desirable job simply to maintain the family health benefits. Sometimes they did so for years or were begrudgingly still employed there.

One of my friends put on his John Lennon hat and said, “Imagine what we could have done if we had been able to pursue what we really wanted to do, not what we had to do.”

What we’ve witnessed over the past 11 months with this debate on health reforms is one of the worst displays of fear mongering. And it was amazing to watch the Republicans decide that their political prospects in the 2010 elections were more important than solving a set of problems that have bankrupted millions of sick Americans, while denying tens of millions more people health coverage in what is the richest, most innovative nation in the history of mankind. Or that they would side with an insurance industry more interested in maintaining the status quo (and their massive profits) at the expense of families and small businesses stooping under the weight of relentlessly increasing health costs.

What has occurred with the health reform and Cap-and-Trade issues is a widening polarization of politics. We’ve all seen the problems: Families are going bankrupt and the glaciers and ice caps are melting. We have in the President a politician who vowed to tackle the seemingly unsolvable issues just a year ago. We have the entire loyal opposition, which isn’t even at the table when the final reforms are forged. 

I’m not an economist and just trying to make sense out of what may be valid concerns. Gov. Daniels is warning Sens. Evan Bayh and Dick Lugar that the current bills could cost Indiana billions in new Medicaid costs. There have been dueling reports and studies on both sides where the intent and facts are murky. 

I’ve been amazed at the number of politicians who will tell us with great certainty what the harrowing impact of the reforms will be without even knowing what will actually be in the final bill when it hits President Obama’s desk.

I’m generally an optimistic soul. I tend to believe that when we elect a new president or governor, they ought to have a shot at getting their programs passed. The input is vital from all sides. They can stand for re-election on the merits of their decisions.

The real leadership of President Obama must come when a bill passes the Senate. Both the House and Senate versions – flawed as they are – will then go through the conference process where further changes will come. Even if President Obama signs such a bill, there will inevitably be tweaks and even some major corrections.

I recalled Robert Kuttner’s book “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency,” who lists Lincoln, FDR, LBJ and Reagan as presidents who fit the category.” By appealing to what was most noble in the American spirit,” Kuttner observes, “these presidents energized movements for change, and thereby put pressure on themselves and on the Congress to move far beyond what was deemed conceivable.”

Folks, in these dark days, with a brooding winter setting in and a lot of pain in American homes, I hope the reformers in Washington stay the course. The past still appears worse to me than the fears brought forth by the stasists in our midst.

(Howey publishes at

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