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Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go

Lawrence Bush
December 16, 2009

Without the public option, without a Medicare buy-in, without consumers having the right to practice “free trade” to buy prescription drugs from other countries, without even a “coop” system of health insurance companies, what now makes the health care bill worth salvaging?
From the beginning, President Obama’s reform campaign was meant primarily to reign in health care costs, which were becoming intolerable for corporate budgets and for the economy in general. The health insurance industry, as well as the AMA and the pharmaceutical giants, were all willing to endorse and even advertise on behalf of the bill, because it was in their self-interest to do so: The bill was going to avert a single-payer alternative, and would be an enormous payday, especially for the insurance companies, because it would require 30 million-plus Americans to buy health insurance (subsidized or not). But at least there were some concessions to the working majority’s self-interest: portability of health insurance, an end to the previously existing conditions exclusions, and the possibility of a public option that would pressure insurance companies to keep their premiums in check, to name a few.
These benefits have almost all been eliminated — by Democrats. Max Baucus, who has collected nearly four million in health industry monies since 2003, consistently blocked the public option, and now the dirty work has been taken over by Joseph Lieberman — an absolute darling of the insurance industry — and a few other conservative Democrats. The only convincing benefits left in the bill — portability and restrictions on previously existing conditions — could easily be legislated in small, separate bills. (Had Obama been more politically experienced to begin with, a series of small reform bills might have been the wiser route.)
The only remaining rationale for the bill is to prove that “Democrats can govern” and assure that they get elected in the midterm elections. Many progressives are desperate to see the health care bill pass simply because of the intensity and deceitfulness of the rightwing campaign against it. We can’t let the tea-partyers win! We can’t let Glenn Beck win!
But if progressives continue to allow Democrats to take our support for granted, we will never overcome the likes of Joseph Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Max Baucus and get a party that is responsive to the working majority. There’s got to be a message: You can’t get elected without us. It’s the message that the Evangelical Right has been giving the Republican Party for decades, with great effect. Our version of that message might force Harry Reid to abolish the fillibuster (as the Republicans repeatedly threatened to do when they were in the majority under George W. Bush), or get the bill passed through procedural maneuvering.
So maybe progressives in the Senate should just let the bill go — and place the blame squarely on the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, who can then try to get reelected as people who refused to reform health care in America. Let the corporate powers-that-be continue to contend with a health care bill that consumes a sixth of the economy. I’d rather see it spent on too many mammograms than on too many wars, too many secret prisons, too many missile defense systems, too many corporate subsidies.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.