Had Ted Kennedy been alive today, either Ben Nelson would not have been able to undermine women’s health care equities and move his anti-abortion beliefs into national consequence or Joe Lieberman would not have been able to get included in the health care bill nearly whatever the big insurers wanted — no matter how much these positions conflicted with earlier Lieberman positions.
Barack Obama’s victory ahead in signing major health care legislation would have been cleaner, stronger, better with Ted Kennedy at his side.
The “public option” would have survived.
I’m not a health care expert, though I have been following the debate closely for years, largely through the excellent work of my colleagues who run the New America Foundation Health Policy Program. Len Nichols and his team have been equipping proponents of health care reform in the White House and the Congress about the importance of expanding access and neutralizing the many weapons health care insurers use to undermine or exclude American citizens who have significant health care needs.
Nichols’ predecessor at the New America Foundation was my good friend, Laurie Rubiner, who helped craft for the late Senator John Chafee (R-RI) one of the first pieces of health care legislation calling for a mandate that health care cover all Americans. Rubiner’s work later appeared in test programs that Mitt Romney ran in Massachusetts while Governor and also in California where Arnold Schwarzenegger gave it a very good try. She also crafted Hillary Clinton’s second health care proposal which was pitched during her presidential campaign.
Rubiner and Nichols are both two of the vital, key intellectual architects behind an expanded health care mandate — and Len Nichols has been a passionate, tireless, practically Messianic force in moving behind the scenes this legislation forward.
On one hand, I am pleased that President Obama is going to have a major success he can point to that does address some of the nearly unbelievable practices of health insurers in blocking access and support for Americans. Obama needed this success to be able to succeed in other things.
Losing in health care would have meant calling it a day on nearly every other major policy issue. And the world is in too dire a mess for Obama to be made impotent this early in his tenure. So, I’m glad we are moving forward, passing something, and will hopefully get into other major national security and domestic challenges facing the country.
But I am very saddened that in order to succeed, Obama had to undermine the rights of women in the process. Laurie Rubiner who now heads government affairs for Planned Parenthood, must be very conflicted right now — on one hand seeing a massive expansion of health care that nonetheless erodes the rights of women in ways unacceptable to her organization and to many liberals and progressives around the nation.
Ben Nelson has probably made himself a target now for liberals and progressives who greatly resent the portal he forced all Americans to go through to get to a greater social need.
When George W. Bush achieved his most important domestic priority — tax cuts — he did so after winning a conflicted presidential contest and with very thin margins of support. But there was no sense that the glass was half full or half empty in Bush’s crowning policy achievement.
It is awkward and strange that Barack Obama who one his keys to the White House with the greatest political landslide since LBJ’s victory barely squeaked by in this health care gambit and was undermined by alleged allies in his own party.
But a victory is a victory and Obama will be able to claim it. I’m glad Americans will not be able to be told that they have no health care insurance options and can’t be excluded from coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
I think that the entire nation — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — need this President to succeed. It’s vital because the challenges ahead are so massive.
I hope that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson understand the importance of this too — and again, I think we all miss Ted Kennedy.
— Steve Clemons