Political danger of a ‘Yes’ on health reform? The risk of a ‘No’ may be greater

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President Lyndon Johnson faced hard choices in 1964: Preserve Democrats’ majority in Congress, perhaps for decades. Or ram through landmark civil rights legislation proposed by the slain John F. Kennedy, plus Medicare health coverage for seniors–and lose the whole bloc of so-called Southern Democrats, Strom Thurmond among them.

lbjcivilrights.pngSubstitute Blue Dog Democrats for Southern Democrats, and you’d be close to what Congress and President Obama face over a much easier choice–a moderate health reform bill that is run almost entirely by private insurance companies. The failed and pro forma "health summit" last Thursday at the White House proved that Republican leaders have no intention of providing a single vote, and see the measure as no more than "socialist" flag to wave in this fall’s Congressional campaigns.

Johnson faced his dilemma in 1964. The president and his allies in Congress–including a spare majority of Republicans (one major difference from today)–bit the bullet, passing the Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (At right, Johnson signs the Civil Right Act as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. looks on) Both are now integral to American life, and no one outside the lunatic fringe would propose dialing back to 1964–Americans forced into subordination, by law, and banned from the voting booth for the color of their skin.

There was no happy ending for Johnson. Southern Democrats did abandon the party, though that may have happened anyway. But the party, no longer carrying a Ku Klux Klan legacy on its back, regained its soul.

Stories like that are driving the shirkers known as "moderate Democrats" in today’s Congress. They shrivel at the choice between passing a merely medium-sized national health reform and assuring their own job security. There’s a grain of reality in their fear. Here’s how the choices were laid out by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and GOP Rep. Eric Cantor on Sunday, as reported in the Washington Post:

As Democrats fanned out on television to bolster their party’s prospects for passing health-care legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it will require "courage" from members of her party.

"Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in
Congress," she said on ABC’s "This Week." "We’re here to do the job for
the American people; to get them results that give them not only health
security but economic security, because the health issue is an economic
issue for America’s families."

Rep. Eric Cantor
(R-Va.) countered on "Meet the Press" that if Democrats push the bill
through on party lines, they will "lose their majority in Congress in

But other old stories show that the cringing is overblown.

Johnson faced another storm of opposition to a sweeping health care reform–the Social Security Act of 1965 that established Medicare. The American Medical Association and big business were unified in opposition, Large employers put "Notices" in worker pay envelopes that their jobs would be threatened if Medicare passed, and urging employees to voice their opposition.

Yet Medicare did pass in 1965, and now even the most hard-nosed Republicans are shedding crocodile tears over any attempt to trim Medicare costs as part of health care reform. People railing against "government insurance" are also saying "don’t touch my Medicare." Medicare was popular almost from Day 1, despite the predictions of fiscal doom and government gone wild.

So if the Blue Dogs think health reform is a tough choice, they lack all sense of history. No vote these days comes without risk. If they can’t man up enough to vote yes on even this deeply compromised health reform, they’re effectively casting a vote for the wild abuses and economy-wrecking costs of health insurance in the hands of Blue Cross and United HealthCare. All that the opponents of comprehensive reform offered during the Obama summit were Chicken Little theatrics and juvenile props, like Rep. Eric Cantor’s thick, bookmarked copies the legislation. Not one credible, comprehensive alternative surfaced from all the arm-waving.

If the fence-sitters are afraid of Republicans in November, wait until Blue Cross issues another round of 39% premium increases next year. That, in fact, may be on the minds of some House members who voted against health reform last year, but now say they’re reconsidering. If the "no" votes kill health reform they’ll be counted. Over and over and over. If a few Democrats think they’ll suffer in November from voting "yes," no one in either party will be honored by history for voting no, when the consequences settle in. 

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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