After decades of dashed hopes and a year of very contentious debate, Congress has produced a bill that will deliver meaningful health care reform to Americans of all ages and all walks of life. Through tough negotiations, we struck an appropriate balance between private and public approaches to reduce cost, expand coverage and increase choice for Louisiana families and small businesses. And we have done so without a government takeover of health care.
For too long, small businesses have struggled with skyrocketing premiums and the tough choice between providing health insurance for their employees or cutting jobs. Those days are over with the passage of this bill. Families who have had a child denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or who have lost their insurance because they changed jobs will now have access to insurance they can count on. And by shoring up the Medicare trust fund and eliminating the program’s waste and fraud, our seniors will have the care they need for years to come.
It is now time to move this effort across the finish line. I look forward to the Senate’s up-or-down vote this week to approve the House’s target improvements to this historic legislation.
“I am deeply disappointed that after being thrown a fundraiser by Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner the week before the vote, Congressman Cao went against the will and health of his district by joining Congressional Republicans in voting against this historic and urgent legislation to reform our country’s health care system,” Richmond said in a statement last night.
“Let me be perfectly clear, there is no public funding of abortion in this legislation,” Richmond added. “Congressman Cao’s opposition is less a principled stance against fictional public funding of abortion and more a smoke screen to hide behind, as it was recently reported that his campaign contributions fell by 40% after his vote for the House health care legislation last year.”
Certainly, here in Louisiana and throughout the ultra-conservative Deep South, Democrats disproportionately broke ranks with their party to vote against healthcare reform. While in the North and West, many Democrats from generally more conservative districts were able to win election in 2008 based on the overall enthusiasm for the Obama campaign, in the South, Democrats have no real political incentive to support their party’s leadership. Not only are Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi particularly unpopular in the South but the Democratic Party’s grassroots base has much weaker infrastructure with which to hold their members accountable. Whereas Democrats in New York and Michigan, for instance, must almost necessarily earn the support of organized labor and “the net roots,” in Louisiana organized labor is often unpopular as a matter of principle, regardless of the issues they’re working on.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, for instance, has voted against much of his party’s agenda over the last 16 months as he prepares to take on Republican David Vitter for his Senate seat. He voted ‘no’ last night after also voting against the earlier version of the bill that came out of the House. His political calculation must have been that he cannot and should not do anything that would overtly cultivate support among reliable Democratic voters. Supporting things that liberals like generally means supporting something that conservatives don’t like. That will always make life difficult for Democratic candidates in a state with more conservatives than liberals.
But built into that logic is that liberals are so desperate to unseat people such as Vitter that their votes can be taken for granted. There is no political incentive to supporting any liberal causes; there is no circumstance in which a liberal or moderate Democrat would vote for Vitter. And given the so-called enthusiasm gap between liberals and conservatives demonstrated over the past several months, it has not appeared as though any Democratic candidate would have much success winning a close election based on the strength of grassroots liberal turnout.
Yet Melancon may be testing some limits. Advocacy of healthcare reform isn’t just the pet cause of some liberals; it has been the central plank of the party platform since President Truman. Healthcare, more than abortion, gay rights, or the two wars, is a consistent litmus test issue for Democrats throughout the coverage. The Democrats have always tolerated divergence from the party platform, but support for universal healthcare represents for many, the essence of the differences between the two parties.
Besides, it’s not as if Melancon has been setting the world afire in his advocacy for the other causes near and dear to rank-and-file Democrats. He is not pro-choice, he is not in favor of gay rights, and he has an abysmal record on the environment. Heck, the guy votes to protect the inheritances of millionaires, even using the right-wing moniker for the estate tax, “the death tax,” in his own press release.
In fact, the only major legislation I can remember on which Melancon sided with a majority of Democrats in this session was the stimulus bill.
I’m clearly no political strategist, but wouldn’t you assume it would be easier to defend a vote in favor of healthcare reform than one in favor of the stimulus bill? Even in a conservative state like this, could he think of no argument for a bill that extends coverage to working families while simultaneously reducing the deficit?
As Jeffrey notes in the comments, beyond Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation, this bill is actually a more conservative version of Tricky Dick’s health care proposal from the seventies, and a much more limited version of the universal coverage envisioned by those well known fascist statists, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. Federal involvement in healthcare dates back to 1798, but pretending it’s a Marxist plot to destroy liberty is always more fun. As Frum explains, this Republican opposition (wrapped in the rubric of “principle”) was ALWAYS first and foremost about defeating Obama, in much the same manner as they “defeated” Bill Clinton in 1993/94. The GOP chose to be strategic and act like anything from the President’s mouth was a sign of the Obamapocalypse. The content of the Democrats’ actual proposals never mattered, as they would be criticized and opposed no matter what, in order to hurt Obama. So the GOP helped stir opposition to the bill with hysterical extremist language. They were never, ever negotiating in good faith, hoping that they could reach some “common ground”. This was all about handing Obama a crippling political defeat.
And tonight, their strategic decision cost them.