More Than Half a Century is Too Fast

If you want to get an idea of how Democrats have been working to reform our healthcare system, hop a link over to the Truman Library. There, you'll find an entry titled "This Day in Truman History, November 19, 1945: President Truman's Proposed Health Program," which all seems eerily familiar. Only 7 months into Truman's presidency, he wrote congress asking them to provide healthcare for all citizens. " We should resolve now that the health of this Nation is a national concern," he wrote, "that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the Nation."

It didn't go well.

Harry TrumanPresident Truman's health proposals finally came to Congress in the form of a Social Security expansion bill, co-sponsored in Congress by Senators Robert Wagner (D-NY) and James Murray (D-MT), along with Representative John Dingell (D-MI). For this reason, the bill was known popularly as the W-M-D bill. The American Medical Association (AMA) launched a spirited attack against the bill, capitalizing on fears of Communism in the public mind. The AMA characterized the bill as "socialized medicine", and in a forerunner to the rhetoric of the McCarthy era, called Truman White House staffers "followers of the Moscow party line". Organized labor, the main public advocate of the bill, had lost much of its goodwill from the American people in a series of unpopular strikes. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, President Truman was finally forced to abandon the W-M-D Bill. Although Mr. Truman was not able to create the health program he desired, he was successful in publicizing the issue of health care in America. During his Presidency, the not-for-profit health insurance fund Blue Shield-Blue Cross grew from 28 million policies to over 61 million. When on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law at the Harry S. Truman library & Museum, he said that it "all started really with the man from Independence".

There's a lot there that's eerily familiar, isn't there? It was Harry Truman who ordered the deployment of nuclear weapons in Japan, arguably ending the war, and his political opponents still not only felt comfortable questioning his patriotism, but succeeded in killing his plan. It took twenty years for even a sliver of Truman's plan to get through and it's become a tremendous success. Today, the most popular healthcare plan in America is Medicare -- what Truman's (and Johnson's) political opponents derided as "socialized medicine."

Fifty-nine years later, another Democratic president is being accused of trying to "jam" a healthcare reform bill through congress. Fifty-nine years is just too fast.

So here we are now, doing the same damned thing with the other side making the same damned non-arguments. For his part, Obama seems to be getting worn out by the fight, ready to make concessions to get something passed. For their part, the Senate has been no help at all. Majority leader Harry Reid has been doing what he does best -- trying to please everyone and failing miserably. He's running third in his re-election effort as a result of "anemic support among Democrats." Reid really does seem to believe that politics is all about not rocking anyone's boat. If he doesn't win his race, it'll be hard to mourn the loss.

But the story is different in the House of Representatives -- the "People's House." Here's Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition and bring down costs. If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry.

President Obama has said that a public option will keep the insurance companies honest. If someone has a better idea for promoting competition and reducing health care costs, they should put it on the table. But for the past month, opponents of health insurance reform have demonstrated that they are afraid of the facts. They have only offered distortions, distractions and misrepresentations to try to kill this historic legislation.

A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House. Eliminating the public option would be a major victory for the insurance companies who have rationed care, increased premiums and denied coverage.

Some are reading that "If someone has a better idea" statement as being open to options. I read it as sarcasm; "You got a better idea? Yeah, I didn't think so..."

For their part, the house has become the final defenders of the public option -- at least, in government. Speaking for house liberals, Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Raul Grijalva have sent a letter to the president asking him to stand firm on a government plan. "Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates -- not negotiated rates -- is unacceptable," they wrote, echoing Speaker Pelosi. In the People's House, a public option isn't negotiable.

"A health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs," the two wrote. "We cannot vote for anything less." Outside government, others are saying the same thing.

"The question is what's he gonna do in a week," says Richard Kirsch, campaign director for Health Care for America Now. "He's giving his address next Wednesday. We have to see what the President says." And what he says will have a lot to do with his future influence (and support) among liberals.

"You win by rallying your supporters and convincing the middle," Kirsch says. "You don't win by disappointing your supporters and confusing the middle."

No, you don't. And you don't win by playing for a draw. There are two sides in this fight, insurance corporations and the people. The people shouldn't be allowed to lose. If we don't get what we want now, we can look back at history and see that it may be twenty years before we get even a fraction of needed reforms. We can also look back at history and see that the non-profit co-ops don't make a difference; Blue Cross became more like other corporations than those corporations became like Blue Cross. For a lot of people in this country, it's now or never. For the rest of us, it's another generation down the road.

"Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness," one guy in the know has said. "The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection."

It was Harry Truman and that time arrived 59 years ago.


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