I almost don’t know where to begin. Should I write about the long history of failed health reform efforts that just witnessed its streak come to an end? Should I continue trying to explain the legislation so that people will have a better understanding of what it does and does not contain? Should I focus on the legislative process, the merits of reconciliation, and the obstructionist tactics of the right on this issue? I’ve written about all of this, and I will again, but not today. No, today I just want to say one simple thing: Sometimes politicians set aside personal interests to do what is right for the country. When they do so, they ought to be applauded for it.
I watched and recorded more C-SPAN yesterday than I ever thought possible. At times it got pretty heated on the floor of the House–almost resembling the British Parliament. That’s understandable given the level of energy and resultant emotion that everyone had vested in this debate. That’s why there were angry mobs rallying outside of the Capitol. That’s why Rep. John Boehner set aside decorum repeatedly and shouted “Hell No!” during his closing remarks before the vote. That’s why the House Gallery had to be quieted on numerous occasions when applause broke out.
As the President has said many times, this wasn’t good politics, it was good policy. This is a mid-term election year, and the stakes are high for many members of Congress. Yet enough of them were able to summon the courage of their convictions and do the right thing–setting aside the possibility that they may lose their bid for re-election. That selflessness is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of great leadership.
For the more than a year that this debate has gone on, there are any number of points in the process at which the push for reform could have died. Indeed, if health reform were your grandmother, it should be noted that special interests and the GOP were working feverishly to pull the plug on her. Many times the news was less than optimistic. In fact, it was often downright cynical. We had been down this path before, and we had gotten lost, never making it to our destination. We had become conditioned to cave in at the first sign of opposition. But not this Congress and this Administration. They pushed forward. When the media reported that health care reform was dead, when the topic took a backseat in the news to talk of the economy, our elected officials were working harder than ever to finish the race set before them. Last night, the tenacious Democrats crossed the finish line.
Now, this is but one leg of the race, one step further down the path. This legislation surely won’t fix all that ails the U.S. health care system, but it certainly moves us along in the right direction and demonstrates that it is possible to legislate improvements to our system–holding the door open for future Presidents and Congresses to pick up the torch of reform and carry it forward.
Like Congress, my work is not done. In the days, months, and years ahead I will use my blog to discuss issues surrounding implementation of these reforms, ongoing developments in the areas of health policy and health services research, and any new reform efforts that may arise. For now, though, I just want to say to Congress: “Well done.” And I want to provide you with some links to some great resources, including these on how the votes were cast and what health reform means for you (here’s a second similar resource).
Obviously, there will be much, much more to come.