Something feels wrong about the state of American politics. With millions unemployed and home foreclosures at record levels, the country is still suffering acutely from the recession's effects, yet the Tea Party is the only movement that can put thousands of people into the streets. How is it that so soon after activists helped Barack Obama win the presidency, the left is quiet while feet march and fires burn on the right?
President Barack Obama at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., Monday, March 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
If the House of Representatives passes the Senate health-care reform bill with the changes recommended by President Barack Obama, and the Senate then passes those final changes through reconciliation, no one will be more pleased than I (see "Underrating Reform" in the Prospect's March issue).
But suppose that after the White House and congressional leadership press their case, twist arms, and count heads, they are still short of the votes they need. Should they just give up on the legislation, or can they make any additional concession to attract votes while preserving the aims of reform?
The following column was written before the release of President Obama’s proposed changes to the Senate health-reform bill. Those changes, to be made through the budget-reconciliation process, should reduce objections from House Democrats on several points. In particular, the president proposes to raise the threshold for the excise tax on high-cost health plans to $27,500 and to postpone it to 2018. A compromise on these lines should help ease the transition to a new system of coverage with better incentives to control costs.
Sen. Ben Nelson and Joseph Lieberman. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
If Congress can complete work on health-care legislation and send it to the president (as of mid-January, the final bill is still under negotiation), it will be a stunning historical achievement and the most important liberal reform since the 1960s. It may also be the most underappreciated social legislation in recent history. Never in my experience has such a big reform been treated as so small. Never have Democratic members of Congress who are putting their careers on the line for something they believe in been so vilified as sellouts by influential progressives. And never have those progressives been so grudging in their endorsement of landmark legislation or so willing to see it defeated.
As Barack Obama ends his first year in office, there is much talk about disillusionment with the president among progressives. The litany of complaints is obvious: unemployment still at 10 percent, economic policies unduly favorable to Wall Street, the surge in Afghanistan, compromises on health care, the failure to close down Guantánamo, and a general inability to bring about the transformative change that Obama spoke of during his campaign.