“If you compared it to the alternative, it looks good. If you compare it to the possibilities, it looks sad.” So said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island upon emerging from a closed-door meeting of Democratic Senate leadership on Monday evening, as it became clear that even the compromise plan of allowing Medicare buy-ins by persons aged 55-64 (the replacement for the public option) would not be enough to get healthcare reform to 60 votes.
Standing in the way, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who has played his standing as the Republican Party’s Democrat to the hilt, exercising what has become, in effect, one-man veto power over this legislation. Amazing, considering that the bill only needs a simple majority to pass, but the problem is cloture, always cloture. And therein lies that dread 60 votes we’ve all become familiar with.
Question: When is a majority not a majority?
Answer 1: When you can’t force the minority to shut up.
Answer 2: When a Judas is in your midst.
But these are no excuses. The threat of filibuster in this and the last Democratic Senate has been just that: a threat. It is beyond frustrating to watch legislators kowtow to demands of members of their caucus that are at odds with real reform. It is, in fact, downright maddening. Harry Reid, or any Senate Majority Leader, was never going to have an easy time passing healthcare reform, much less one that established a government-run insurance plan. But it has been over forty years since Medicare was founded, a hundred years since Teddy Roosevelt first broached the subject of healthcare for all. If passing any legislation is better than passing nothing, if that legislation is supposed to be the slippery slope that leads to single payer, it will be another hundred years before the United States catches up to western civilization and grants all its people the right to healthcare.
The Democrats should be embarrassed. Their lack of cohesion is legendary, but faltering at this moment because they can’t face staring down an endless parade of Republican windbags shows nothing less than an astounding lack of fortitude. Put even more bluntly, the Democrats in the Senate have no balls. The GOP held that chamber for the better part of twelve years and never had the supermajority that the Democrats have in theory, and they backed down from their fare share of fights, but they never seemed so ready from the outset of any tough legislative battles to immediately rule out contesting the threat of a filibuster like the Democrats do, every single damned time the real issues of the day reach the floor.
Healthcare reform is society-altering legislation. Handled in bold and thoughtful fashion this legislation could be as meaningful to the fabric of our nation as the First Amendment to the Constitution. At the very least, it will be as important as Social Security, that inward-looking moment when we realized that abandoning the aged and infirm in our country was cruel and morally indefensible. As it was then, so it is equally indefensible today to allow a situation to exist where the fruits of a lifetime of sweat and toil can be whisked away to the faceless leviathan of the healthcare industry in mere months, weeks, or even days, only because a person fell ill, as we all could, and all as we all will.
The toll reaches beyond the monetary, breaking lives along with bank accounts, leaving some left with no recourse but to forego treatment, both preventive and clinical, leading to needless deaths. Only a government-run insurance plan, one where profit has been removed as an obstacle to healthcare, can right this great wrong that is quite literally being inflicted on the body public. Shrinking from this duty, this obligation to correct a wrong in the favor of the public good deserves all the contempt, all the ridicule, all the ire that the American people can muster. And even then, it may not be enough to convince these craven men and women in the Senate to reverse themselves and include a strong public option in any legislation they pass.
As for Senator Lieberman, his withdrawal of support for even the watered-down compromise proposal that was reached last week is to be particularly despised, not least because he supported such legislation when he ran for Vice President, but because he supported this idea on many occasions in the past few months, only to reverse himself when it appeared it had the support of the Democratic caucus.
Senator Lieberman is a cancer on the Senate, the one man who can be counted on to be the assassin of anything good. He himself is no good for the country, no good for Connecticut, and no good for the Democratic Party. His bluff to bolt to the GOP is another that should be called by the Democrats. Let Lieberman flee to irrelevancy, let him give up his committee chairmanships, let him see just how hard it is to sell a vote while declaring an actual allegiance. And as for the Democrats, let them find out just how much easier it is to conduct the nation’s business when they no longer have to whore their ideals to a tiny little shit from Connecticut.