The health bill is quite an achievement. While I know it awaits conference, it will, in a form likely similar to the Senate bill, become law early next year. Many fellow liberals see it as a giveaway to insurers and fatally flawed due to the individual mandate and lack of a public option plan. I hear the concerns but think it does a great deal of good and will stand the test of time as a landmark piece of social legislation.
And in considering whether its good enough I am reminded of what the noted historian William E. Leuchtenburg wrote about the social security law in his history of the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.
Leuchtenberg called it “an astonishingly inept and conservative piece of legislation.” In no other welfare system in the world, he observed, “did the state shirk all responsibility for old age indigency and insist that funds be taken out of the current earnings of workers. By relying on regressive taxation and withdrawing vast sums to build up reserves, the act did untold economic mischief.” However, Leuchtenburg concedes that the act was “a new landmark in American history” in that it “reversed historic assumptions about the nature of social responsibility,” and “established the proposition that the individual has clear-cut social rights.”
This health care act builds on that very proposition but also brings a twist into it, matching the presumption around social rights with the idea that citizens also have responsibilities for caring for themselves, i.e. via the mandate for health insurance. The mandate was an idea Bob Dole raised during the debate over the Clinton health plan in 1993. Mitt Romney brought it to the table in our own landmark state law. Obama opposed it during the campaign but quickly recognised its importance in passing reform this year.
And I should also mention that the bill has pushed the Republicans further to the political right. The bill is a amalgam of ideas from the right and left and yet the GOP has run away from it. It might gain them short term points due to the political mess their demogoguery has brought to the debate. But long-term, it will once again show conservatism on the wrong side of history.
So thank you Harry Reid and President Obama for perservering so far. One more hurdle to go and then we can really celebrate a truly remarkable legislative achievement.