By Max J. Castro
The last key conservative Democratic holdouts against comprehensive health reform—Bart Stupak and his band of anti-abortion Democrats—having decided to vote in favor, the dye was cast. What decided their vote was a promise that President Obama would issue an executive order banning the use of federal funding for abortion.
This is a historic victory for Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and the American people. For a century, presidents have tried without success to bring health care to all Americans. This time, for once, the forces of money did not trump the interests of the people.
This long battle is over. There will be others. The GOP will vent and wallow in their sour grapes. They will argue that it is a pyrrhic victory for the Democrats that will haunt them in November. But they pulled all the stops to stop the legislation, and it is a colossal defeat for the GOP.
The Republicans will try to make the 2010 election a referendum on the health care bill. They have already begun the campaign for repeal. Yet chances are other issues such as the economy will take center stage, and the Republicans will not profit much from their obsessive hatred of health care reform.
Historians will for decades analyze how the most important piece of social legislation in 45 years was brought to fruition. They will analyze the good moves and the gaffes. They will scrutinize the Republican tactic of monolithic opposition and the maneuvering of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. They will gauge the impact of the last minute inspirational leadership of Barack Obama. In a way too, George W. Bush with his disastrous administration, will be seen as having paved the way to the solid democratic majorities in Congress that were needed to eke out a victory on health care. It was long in coming.
The naysayers will point out this is not the law that should have been enacted. They are right. But that ideal single payer system had no chance to pass. This reform does enough good things that it is worth celebrating its passage. Another chance like this, with this political configuration, may not happen in decades. And if by chance this country becomes more liberal in the next few years there is always the chance to strengthen the law by adding a public option, or even a single payer system.
Now Barack Obama and the Democrats have only a short time to bask in victory before pivoting and tackling other pressing issues including energy and, especially, jobs. The president and the Congress must be seen as engaged in the work of combating the Great Recession, which for most Americans, has not ended. Technically, the recession has ended; tell that to the millions who have lost their jobs, their homes, or both.
Amid all this, the president must not forget his promise to fix the broken immigration system. This week in Washington, tens of thousands of Latinos will demonstrate to remind the president. It will be a tough fight in the middle of a recession, but we did not elect Barack Obama to deal with the easy problems.
The Republicans handed Barack Obama a mess of problems which he now owns. To minimize the expected losses in the midterm Congressional election, Obama must make visible progress on a number of fronts, including the pullout from Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and the battle to rein in the banks and other predators. These problems may prove every bit as difficult as health care reform.
What of the losers in the health care battle? Where will all their burning anger go? There is reason to be concerned. But for now, let’s take out a moment to celebrate this victory over the Party of “no” and the politics of fear and demagoguery.