“This is not the end of health care reform,” Sen. Tom Harkin declared on the Senate floor after midnight this morning. “This is the beginning of health care reform.”
Harkin was attempting to convince restive liberals that even a scaled back health care bill that did not include their beloved public option was still worth passing. But his comments, along with those made by other Senate Democrats in the week leading up to this morning’s 1 a.m. vote to advance the Senate health care bill, confirmed what critics have been saying throughout the health care debate.
The point isn’t that this one piece of legislation, on its own, will impose a Canadian-style, government-run health care system on the United States immediately. The point is that Democrats are putting infrastructure in place that will allow them to implement a government-run system over time.
By voting in the middle of the night to block a Republican filibuster attempt, Democrats took a big step toward passing health legislation, which is now expected to pass the Senate on Christmas Eve. To be sure, they’ll still encounter a number of obstacles before President Obama can sign it into law.
The version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives has both a public option and stronger abortion language. Liberals and pro-life Democrats in the House are promising a fight during the conference that will merge the two bills, and any concessions to them could upset the delicate balance in the Senate that allowed Majority Leader Harry Reid to cobble together 60 votes. With that said, so far Democrats have proven willing to cut whatever deals they need to in order to get a health care bill across the finish line, and that same dynamic is likely to play out during the remaining negotiations.
As written, the Senate health care bill will force every American to purchase a government-approved insurance policy or pay a tax. It will expand Medicaid by 15 million people. It will create a new government-run long-term care insurance entitlement, called the Class Act, that even Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad called “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.” And it will create new government-run insurance exchanges on which individuals would use government subsidies to buy government-designed insurance policies.
Taken together, this legislation enables to federal government to get its hands on every aspect of the health care system — and it’s only a matter of time before it tighten its grip. Just listen to what Democrats are saying now.
“What we need to do is lay a strong foundation,” Sen. Ron Wyden said in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week. “A foundation that we can build on in the years ahead. We are not going to get everything we want in round one, but we are going to get a foundation that we are going to build on in the years ahead.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller told the New Republic “that liberal advocates could try again another year to push for the reforms that didn’t make it into the current bill.” He said, “You know we’re going to be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.”
And in comments on the Senate floor on Friday, Sen. John Kerry argued that Democrats shouldn’t even wait that long. Kerry recalled how Sen. Ted Kennedy regretted he never accepted a deal President Richard Nixon offered that would have forced employers to insure everybody, with some help from government.
“The lesson Teddy learned is this,” Kerry explained. “When it comes to historic breakthroughs in America, especially in social policies, you make the best deal that you can, and immediately, you start pushing for ways to improve the deal.”
Kerry said Kennedy applied that lesson after successfully fighting for a minimum wage increase in 1996, only to turn around and immediately call for another increase while at a victory rally.
“He was in the victory moment, and he turned to Congresman George Miller, and he said, ‘I’m introducing a bill to raise the minimum wage,'” Kerry recounted. “And George Miller said, ‘What do you mean? You haven’t even let the dust settle?’ And (Kennedy) said, ‘We’ve gotta move on this.'”
The same logic, Kerry said, should apply to passing health care legislation. And as evidence, he noted that Medicare and Medicaid have greatly expanded over time.
If this health care legislation becomes law, Democrats will attempt to use the new infrastructure they built to add stricter regulations, more subsidies, and additional mandates. They will continue to incrementally expand existing government-run programs such as Medicaid. And as health care spending spirals out of control, instead of faulting government intervention, liberals will blame the absence of a public option.
All along, opponents of the pending legislation have argued that it was just one step on the long march to a government takeover of health care. And now, with victory in sight, Democrats are proving their critics’point.
“I know a lot of my progressive friends have been upset that certain things weren’t in it,” Harkin said of the Senate bill on Saturday. “But I put it this way. What we’re building here is not a mansion, it’s a starter home.… It has room for expansions and additions in the future.”
They may not have their dream house just yet. But this morning, while America slept, the Democrats broke ground.