WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Barney Frank has been right on many things during his 32 years as a champion of the underdog in the House of Representatives, but he was dead wrong when he recently remarked that Democrats acted precipitously by rushing healthcare reform into law at the start of President Barack Obama’s first term.
The remark has angered many congressional Democrats, some of whom wasted no time in suggesting that Frank’s gargantuan-sized ego had been bruised by the fact that his party sidetracked his sweeping financial services reform bill to pass the unwieldy and widely unpopular ObamaCare.
Unfortunately, Frank, who is retiring at the end of the year, fails to recognize the realities facing his party at the start of 2009. With dominant majorities on Capitol Hill and a promising new president in the White House, the Democrats had little choice but to “seize the day” and pass the bill that would become the signature legislative achievement of Obama’s first-term.
In doing so, however, their Congressional leaders lost their nerve — failing to realize they and they alone held the upper hand. Instead of passing a simple and straight forward single-payer healthcare law, they decided to further load the deck by offering juicy incentives to Big Pharma and Big Insurance in the form of an additional 19 million new customers.
As a result, they produced a dysfunctional bill of more 2,700 pages weighed down with hundreds of often conflicting requirements — a veritable “dungeons and dragons” labyrinth where untold dangers lurked behind every turn.
Passage of a single-payer — already working well in Canada, across much of Europe and in most other advanced countries — finally would have brought 21st century medical care to the United States. That would have eliminated the costly tons of paperwork and volumes of confusing rules that now befuddle — and all too often — bankrupt Americans in need of quality care delivered in plain Anglo-Saxon English.
Sadly, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., simply lost their nerve and ignored the advice of such experienced legislators as Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., — trading principle and practicality for the prospect of campaign contributions from the likes of Pfizer, Humana, Cigna and United Health Care.
Democrats as a whole would have been better off, if they had taken the advice of legendary Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt, and indulged in a little honest graft, once described by Plunkitt as pursuing “the interests of one’s party, one’s state, and one’s personal interests all together.”
Still, Barney Frank is blatantly wrong in his assertion that the Democrats should have waited before passing a major health care reform package. Such legislation was vitally needed at a time when many millions of Americans were without health coverage and many millions more drastically under covered and vulnerable to continual rounds of soaring costs.
Ironically, the Supreme Court likely would do Democrats a favor at the polls in November, if — as expected — they strike down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, thus pulling the bottom card from Reid and Pelosi’s hastily constructed “house of cards.”
If that happens, the progressive forces that now constitute a majority of Democratic congressional candidates could seize the day and run on a platform making “single-payer healthcare legislation” their top priority.
Such a move would instantly undermine the fear mongering by “know-nothing” Tea Partiers and could well attract more than a modicum of support from independents, moderate Republicans and even some traditional conservatives, who would like to get the contentious issue off the table and move on with more pressing issues.
In many respects, passing a reasonable “simple-payer” bill could be the one action that revives bipartisan civility and helps restore the U.S. to its traditional role as world leader.
• Madsen is a contributing writer to the Online Journal and an author of several books with a progressive perspective.