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Oh, It's On, Folks

Snowe's vote, otherwise pointless, underlines the sea change regarding health care reform

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 14, 2009.

Until recently, the chances for a health care bill in any meaningful form passing Congress were iffy, varying somewhere between ‘eh, maybe’ down to below Rush Limbaugh’s chances of owning an NFL team, where – it was said - he could happily and legally own, sell, and trade black men to his congested heart’s content. But hope arrived yesterday.

In the Senate Finance Committee yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe voted the way the Democrats probably knew she would. As she said, when history calls….well, history calls. What was once an indistinct trumpet is now gaining clarion intensity, and the ground is shifting; has, in fact, shifted since Obama’s speech on the topic. Snowe knows that change with its adjustable risks is now better than inertia with its depressing facts.

She’s only one vote, and that vote yesterday wasn’t needed for passage. But, in becoming the sole Republican to have so voted for change, she gave the finger to more conservative Republicans who blindly voted along party lines and had tried to intimidate her to vote with them. That she would be subject to such is evidence of the current GOP’s utter cluelessness, because being a female Republican Senator from highly Democratic New England is no skip in the political park with one’s inner child. As a probable result, the other Maine Senator, Susan Collins, today said she felt much the same and would support reform. Tepid, and so this might seem as if the two were pandering to the Democrats, but their views on public health haven’t changed a whole lot over the years. This bill now goes to the full Senate and eventually to the committees that will meld it with the House version, and send it up for signature.

This bill does not have a public option, but events of the last few days may impel its eventual inclusion. First, public momentum in the media and in fact seems to be swinging behind Obama and the Democrats, something that did not happen to Clinton because the atmosphere suggested that reform wouldn’t pass Congress anyway, and many decided not to annoy the eventual Republican winners of that battle. Second, the insurance industry has returned to reactionary form and started whining, and saying the reform would mean higher premiums. They’re trying to scare old folks and the more wealthy, who inexplicably consider themselves middle class and representative of a majority, into thinking they’ll be housed in an inner city health clinic rather than in a private hospital when the changes come.

This obvious and blatant last minute scare tactic was apparently the result of the insurance companies, like the rest of us, suddenly realizing that Obama and Congress were not, actually, going to back down and serious health reform was coming, like it or not. After years of record profits and obscene bonuses to executives, the ground for the insurance consortium’s recent contentions is highly unstable and ethically dubious, and their sudden fear of the public’s education in these matters revelatory. Snowe herself thought a trip trigger mechanism to fire up the public option if private insurers failed to get into the spirit might be an acceptable compromise, and I agree, but only if the public option fails of sufficient support.

Snowe’s choice of cliché regarding history must be remarked upon. Whether Social Security or Medicare, the howls of doom from the same social units during the times of their passage seem in retrospect - not just wrong – but idiotically wrong, counterproductive to their own interests, and against the will of the people who aren’t, after all, idiots and realize taxes will have to pay for it somewhere. There is a growing realization that a healthier nation is more productive, content, and in better financial shape. We may not understand the details of why that would be so, but it’s sensed and felt. And so it’s going to happen.

And the realization that obscene insurance profits might be used as a weapon to actually get the public option – a government administered health insurance plan much like Medicare coverage – has galvanized the Democrats. The status quo folks gave them a real, meaningful weapon, one that people understand and have experience with.

It now seems likely that soon, perhaps before the end of the year, we will have health care reform, and government might form a corporation – which good capitalists must acknowledge is an individual – to compete with other such individuals for business. It’s not sure, but Vegas oddsmakers are taking note that its chances for success are way higher today than for Rush Limbaugh to get an NFL team.