I stayed up last night to watch the vote, and was relieved when Congress got the 217 it needed to pass the long-awaited (and much-contested) health care bill. It’s been a long time coming, and hats off to President Obama and Speaker Pelosi for accomplishing something that no President or party has been able to do in a century. We now join the rest of the wealthy industrial nations in enabling our citizens access to affordable health care. It’s about time.
And our citizens sorely need it. We trail many nations in life expectancy, infant mortality and other such indicators, yet we have the best medical resources in the world. If you had access to this care you were charmed. All the members of Congress have it, all rich people have it, and when they get ill they don’t have to make choices between seeing a doctor and going without food.
But many don’t have it. My wife, a public health nurse who serves the underserved in our community, sees the results every day, and it isn’t pretty. Estimates have been around 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year because of lack of access to health care. I have seen it in my congregations for over 30 years; I have seen it in my own family.
When people lose their jobs they lose their health care, and often they lose their tenous grip on the middle class. Often they lose their homes. Many stay in jobs they hate because they can’t afford to lose their health care. You could have great health insurance, and then when you got ill or injured, your company could (and often did) drop you. If you had a pre-existing condition you could be denied care. Everybody except the most benighted and clueless among us agreed our system was broken.
With this bill, which is by no means perfect, and certainly not socialized medicine as some of the rhetoric of its overheated critics have called it, all that will change, although not right away.
I honestly didn’t think it would happen.
Just over a year ago President Obama was beginning his term, and hopes were high. After all, he had won the election with 53% of the vote.
But then it didn’t happen. There was endless debate, and the Democratic Party (mine, but not with much enthusiasm usually) seemingly bumbled their chances away. Then Ted Kennedy died, and my own state elected a Senator who was against the health care bill, so the Democrats lost their super-majority, and the pundits said health care was dead. And I believed them. Just how the President and the Speaker pulled this particular rabbit out of the hat at the last minute still mystifies me.I am happy today that we got it, but I am deeply troubled for my country. This was not a bi-partisan bill, although it is almost identical to the one that my former governor, Republican Mitt Rommney, put into place in Massachusetts. But not one, NOT ONE, Republican member of Congress crossed the aisle to vote for it. There were some “profiles in courage” on the Democratic side for members who knew that their vote will mean that they will not get elected, but there were no profiles in courage on the Republican side, only profiles in shame. Where were the people I used to admire from the opposition? Where was Olympia Snow? Where was Susan Collins?
I’ll tell you where they were. They were with the rest of their party in deciding that the best strategy in dealing with the Obama victory a year ago was to do nothing to help him in any way. The GOP (the Grand Old Party) became the PON (the Party of No).
So I am happy we got the bill, but we are not a healthy nation.Now the Republicans are claiming they weren’t consulted. That is an out and out lie. We have never had a President so intent on developing a bipartisan approach to solving our country’s ills as this one. They thought they could wait him out and make him look bad, and it almost worked. Some of this is politics as usual, but in past historic votes like the Voting Rights and Social Security Acts there were a handful of dissenters from their party that saw it was the right thing to do and crossed the aisle.
Not this time. Do you think this is a coincidence? No. It was a party-wide strategy of obstruction, and although I generally like to see a good opposition party, I hope they take a beating at the polls for their cowardice and mean-spiritedness.
The debate on the floor of Congress last night had some awful moments. Congressman Nunes of California called this modest bill totalitarian and likened it to Soviet-style Communism. One “honorable gentlemen” yelled out “baby killer” at the most pro-life Democrat in the Congress.
After the vote, a visibly tired President Obama tried once more to reach out to make it look bi-partisan, and to sell it to the American people.I grieve that my country is so divided. I grieve that so many are motivated by fear and self-interest. And I grieve that we have become so heartless toward the poor and needy among us. And I especially grieve that so many who feel this way are my fellow Christians.
I am glad we got the bill, however modest. It will make the country a less heartless place. The Old Testament prophets used to judge the health of the nation by how it treats “the last, the least, and the lost” among us. By that measure we as a nation still stand under judgement.
Last night we did a little better, but we are still a country greatly divided, a country still hurting.