Hey, Hey, LBJ! What Kind of Bill Would You Kill Today?

At a Christmas party a couple weeks ago, back when it looked as if the Senate bill’s compromise would include the Medicare buy-in, a friend of mine told me that he predicted Harry Reid was gong to go down in history as the next LBJ. When I reminded him that the deal was not yet set in stone (the degree of Joe Lieberman’s treachery was yet to be fully revealed), he revised his prediction to say that he would either be the next LBJ or the next Jimmy Carter, depending on what happens in the next couple weeks.

With the cloture hurdle now cleared and the likely Christmas Eve passage of the pathetic Senate bill without the public option or Medicare buy-in, the “kill the bill” campaign seems to have failed in the Senate. Now the only question that remains is whether this campaign will win over enough progressives in the House to kill it once it gets out of conference. Progressives everywhere are now in the process of recruiting us to sign petitions for those members of Congress urging them to do just that. If you want to see universal healthcare in your lifetime, or see Harry Reid playing his originally predicted role in this saga, I have some advice for you: don’t sign.

Having definitively lost the fight to pass something decent this year, the Democratic Party’s chances of not getting slaughtered in next year’s midterm elections may have become slim to none, but slim is about to leave town if they don’t give the voters SOMETHING to show that “change we can believe in” was not just another empty promise from the party they simply cannot trust.

If what’s left of the bill truly is worse than doing nothing, we need to ask ourselves why the right is still fighting it every step of the way. There are several reasons why, all of which explain why killing the bill would be the worst possible thing to do.

Right-wingers understand just how many seats they can pick up next year if they can deny the President any victory on his top domestic priority. Not all progressives do.

Right-wingers understand the lessons to be learned from Ted Kennedy’s “killing” of Nixon’s offer for something far more progressive than what we even started with this year, a mistake that he always acknowledged and hoped we would not repeat as we carried on his fight. Not all progressives do.

And most importantly, right-wingers understand the potential for even a piece of junk like this to serve as a building block that will eventually lead us in the direction of true reform. Not all progressives do.

Once again, we need to look at LBJ’s example for guidance. I’m quite certain that when my friend made that reference, the man he was referring to was not the President who signed Medicare into law, but the Senate Majority Leader whose reputation as a master politician lay in his ability to steer to passage a civil rights bill that was, at the time, as universally ridiculed by progressives as the current health reform bill.

Today, we remember the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as the first step moving us in the direction of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it was. But at the time, just about every progressive reacted to the suggestion that they accept “half a loaf” with the response that the amended bill they were being asked to accept was not even a slice. As Hubert Humphrey characterized it, it was “a crumb”.

Say what you want about that crumb. The bottom line, as we now know, is that from that crumb blossomed many great things. Reading about the battle to pass this law in Robert Caro’s masterful LBJ biography, Master of the Senate , I can’t help but see the parallels between that bill’s progressive critics and the “kill the bill” crowd today. They might not have understood what this crumb really represented, but hindsight gave Caro the ability to give a far more accurate assessment of what was represented by the first civil rights law of ANY kind to pass in 82 years: “It was more than half a loaf, a lot more. It was hope.”

Not only will passage of this new crumb (the best one we’re going to get so long as Senate Rule 22 remains on the books) contain within it the hope to show the American public that the Democrats can govern, it can be the seed from which we grow the foundations of real reform. Getting people covered is the first, most important thing. Until we do that, every other goal regarding the quality and/or affordability of that coverage will be out of reach. But once that seed is planted, we can proceed to finish the job.

The states can take the lead. Five years ago, we came within a whisper of passing an employer mandate here in California. This law could do the trick in putting us over the top the next time. Once federal law requires people to have overpriced insurance, it won’t be long before they come to the conclusion that it’s a good idea to demand that their employers be the ones to pay for it. And once Corporate America starts having to pay for its employees’ insurance, it won’t be long before the list of demands they use their massive resources to extort from the government will include the demand for the least expensive way to pay for it. That way, of course, is single payer.

Ted Kennedy was motivated to “kill” Nixon’s proposal for an employer mandate because he was confident that the Democrats could kill it, and then pass single-payer instead once they defeated Nixon in 1972. Worked great, didn’t it? The result was the shutting down of any possibility of passing any health reform for another 37 years, a mistake some progressives seem ready to repeat for another 37 years today.

markbowen

LBJ, on the other hand, played the leading role in passing a civil rights bill that every progressive knew was as badly flawed as the health care bill. The result was the creation of the momentum that led to the real reform that he would personally get the privilege of signing into law with Dr. King by his side seven years later.

Hey, hey, LBJ! This is not the kind of bill you would kill today.

Mark Bowen

DSCC Delegate, 55th AD

Published by the LA Progressive on December 24, 2009
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Comments

  1. My guess is that the racist lobby in LBJ’s time did not have the clout of the medical insurance lobby today, which will only be stronger with the new subsidies. They are second only to finance, and what are the prospects of really separating investment and commercial banks? Real reform of medical care in this country requires reducing the power of for-profit insurance companies, and if that cannot be done now — with nominal Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches — we are not likely to get a second chance anytime soon.

  2. ” Five years ago, we came within a whisper of passing an employer mandate here in California. This law could do the trick in putting us over the top the next time. Once federal law requires people to have overpriced insurance, it won’t be long before they come to the conclusion that it’s a good idea to demand that their employers be the ones to pay for it. And once Corporate America starts having to pay for its employees’ insurance, it won’t be long before the list of demands they use their massive resources to extort from the government will include the demand for the least expensive way to pay for it. That way, of course, is single payer.”

    #1 – many large corporations already bypass insurance industry all together and have their own coverage.

    #2 – most Americans are employed by small businesses not big corporations.

    #3 – the people you’d expect to push single-payer won’t have any credibility since they forced the individual mandate on all Americans.

  3. Comparing the passage of a bill that expanded rights to another that take them away really takes the cake.

    Here’s a history lesson: the pieces of legislation that were difficult for LBJ to get through were progressive in nature and challenged the power structure.

    This P.O.S. health care bill (I believe that’s the official name) is entirely the opposite – entirely.

    Any crumb that could have been thrown: Medicare buy-in for 55-64, state’s right to establish single payer or reimportation of prescription drugs was swept off the table. (Notice I intentionally left the weak feckless public option off that list).

    The only aspect of this bill worth commending is the expansion of Medicaid (which doesn’t require a half-trillion dollar give away to Big Insurance to accomplish) and even that is was scaled back and flawed in that it will increase an already heavy burden on state budgets. What one hand giveth the other taketh.

    Regulations are stated, but there is no enforcement and they will be challenged in the courts, just as they were challenged at the state level. Google “rescission” and “California.” And if you think any piece of legislation drafted by the same industry that is being regulated isn’t filled with loopholes I have beachfront property in Arizona to sell you. You have to be totally brain dead and oblivious to the way Washington has been run for sometime now.

    And by the way Medicare was NOT wildly unpopular when it was passed. Half of the Republicans in the House and 40% of the Republicans in the Senate vote for it because after all the rhetoric about socialism they KNEW it would be wildly popular. This bill will usher in the next Contract on America. Only a brain-dead Democrat would campaign on the P.O.S. health care bill.

    Instead of campaigning on expanding medicare to more people, reimportation of drugs, we’ve got the individual mandate and the biggest bailout of the insurance industry since AIG.

    The democratic party is about to commit suicide and the activists who are calling for the bill to be killed are simply trying to talk the party off the ledge.

  4. Walter Ballin says:

    Here’s another article FOR the health care reform bill by Massachusetts interim Democratic Senator Paul Kirk http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-paul-g-kirk-jr/a-rebuttal-to-howard-dean_b_398218.html

  5. thanks – this is the only good prog argument for the bill that I’ve read

  6. Walter Ballin says:

    Excellent article! The only difference is that were LBJ alive today serving as Majority Leader or President, he would have seen to it that health care reform containing the public option passed. He was tough and not a nebish(means weakling in Yiddish).

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