Mar 22nd 2010

House Health Care Vote Transforms the Political Landscape

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
We wake up this morning surrounded by a new political world.

The House vote approving health care reform was without doubt the most significant congressional vote in the last four decades. That's because it completely transformed the American political landscape. It certainly changed America's health care system. But it altered the balance of political power in America as well.

* Fundamental Reform.
The House vote, together with the work the Senate will finish this week, will provide health insurance to 32 million Americans, rein in the power of the private insurance industry and end the terror that if you lose your job and get a serious illness you will no longer be able to get insurance. It will ultimately help stop tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year that are caused by the condition known as "no insurance."

* It brought us into the company of every other industrial nation by establishing that from this day forward in America - health care is no longer a privilege or a commodity but a right.

* In the two-century-long battle between progressive and conservative values in our country, last night's victory was momentous. Progressive values now define the fundamental frame of reference for a massive new sector of our economy: health care.
After President Bush's victory in 2004, the forces advocating conservative, social Darwinist values tried to take back the territory they had lost in the 1930's by attempting to privatize Social Security. Progressives defeated their efforts - and began to push them back.

Barack Obama's victory in 2008 was like the Normandy invasion - the beginning of a forceful progressive counter-offensive. Today we have secured a whole new massive chunk of real estate.
I do not mean "government control" - far from it. I mean that the terms defining the distribution of health care in America will no longer be exclusively based on the interests of huge private insurance companies. Instead they will be defined by the fundamental understanding that health care is a human right.

As the late Senator Kennedy wrote to President Obama before he died, what was at stake in the health care battle was not "the details of policy, but the character of our country."
The exact structures of the health care reform bill may be modified - and I hope expanded -- to include a robust public option. But the progressive value premise has been established and I do not believe it can be rolled back.

Before the Republicans execute their plan to run this fall on a "repeal the bill" platform, they should take a look at the fate of Alf Landon and the Republicans who, in 1936, ran on the platform of repealing Social Security. They lost big. In fact by the time the Republicans finally retook the White House (16 years later) with Dwight Eisenhower no Republican candidate uttered a word about "repealing" a program that had long sense become massively popular.

* This victory has validated President Obama's commitment to making serious change.
He came into office promising real, transformative change and he has delivered it. He proved that he - and America - can make big change - address truly fundamental issues.

Many pundits had argued that he bit off more than he could chew. They had said that he should be satisfied with "small change" - shouldn't tackle so many things at once - shouldn't challenge the interests of so many powerful sectors of the American economy. Suddenly his Administration, and the forces that surround it, look a lot smarter than it did two days ago, when the dominant media chatter was about who was to blame for allowing the Obama Presidency to be stuck in the mud. Obama accomplished something that had eluded Presidents for a century - not bad.

* With this victory the entire narrative of the Obama presidency has changed.
Health care reform has repeatedly been declared moribund - completely dead after the Scott Brown election in Massachusetts. Obama has brought health care back - like a phoenix -- from the dead. He did it through absolute persistence and clear, unflappable leadership - the same kind of leadership he and his organization exhibited when they were repeatedly counted out during the Presidential race.He also demonstrated nerves of steel. He bet the political ranch on health care reform and won.

* Last night's vote demonstrated to the American voters that government can work
. It has been a central Republican goal for years to show that government doesn't work. Of course the incompetence of the Bush Administration helped validate their premise. But since the election of a Democrat to the White House they have had one key goal: gridlock. The lock has been broken.

* Our victory demonstrated that a special interest as wealthy as the private insurance industry can in fact be defeated
. The insurance companies and Chamber of Commerce have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stop health care reform cold. They lied, they distorted the facts, they threatened. They have failed. That will embolden Democrats - and average Americans - to challenge the power of Wall Street and the Oil Companies, to challenge the power of every other special interest that seeks to promote their private interest at the expense of the public interest.

* The House vote shows that hope can defeat fear
. The entire campaign of the health insurance industry and the Right has been built on a foundation of fear - from death panels, to "government takeover," to "socialized medicine," to bogus "cuts" in Medicare. Hope won. That has enormous implications for issues like immigration reform.

* The health care victory was a tribute to political courage
- the courage of Barack Obama who bet his Presidency on the outcome - and the courage of many House Democrats who took, what they feared would be an unpopular vote.In fact, I would argue, that by Election Day, there will be very few districts where a vote for health care reform is unpopular. But I would also argue, that this fall we will see clear evidence that courage itself is very popular.

Willingness to stand up for what you believe - and unwillingness to be swayed by political winds - is good politics. People love candidates who are not what they conceive as "typical politicians" that always have their fingers in the air or decide what they believe based on the latest poll.
The fact that many Members stood up tall - took on the insurance industry - and refused to be intimidated - is itself a great political narrative for Democratic candidates this fall.

And I predict that we will also learn the opposite is also true.
The Democrats who decided to oppose health care reform because of political pressure - particularly those that voted yes the first time health care reform was considered by the House - will be in deep political trouble.
The flip-floppers will find that they will gain nothing with the hard core opponents of reform, their base will be demobilized, and the flip-flop charge itself will move independent voters to oppose them. Very dumb.

* Last night's victory shows that great organizing works
. Credit goes to the millions of members of Organize for America (OFA), MoveOn.org, the major health care reform coalition, Health Care for America Now (HCAN), U.S. Action, the Center for Community Change, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, the Center for Community Change, Americans United for Change, The Communications Workers of America (CWA), AARP, the Alliance of Retired Americans, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the National Women's Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, Progress Now, Families USA - and scores of other grassroots organizations.
These are real organizations - not the creations of "astro-turf" lobby firms like Dick Armey's "Freedom Works."

Credit especially goes to organized labor - the bedrock of the progressive forces in America - without which victory was not even remotely possible - as well as progressive funders like Atlantic Philanthropies.

The campaign conducted by the pro-reform forces included everything from phone calls, to grassroots action, to earned media, to lobby visits to Congress, to TV commercials. In many respects it was a model - to be built and improved upon in the future. Though we were outgunned financially by the infinitely deep pockets of insurance industry, we won.And ultimately victory also depended entirely on a tough, eloquent President to provide the leadership necessary to win.

The end game was particularly masterful. One commentator noted that the President had the Republicans for lunch when he spoke at their own retreat - and he had a seven hour banquet at the "bi-partisan" summit. He used the power of the Presidency to enormous effect to place the Republicans on the defense.

The rallies, the self confidence, and the sense of inevitability that he and Speaker Pelosi brought to the last several weeks - coupled with brilliant one-on-one work with Members of Congress and co-ordination with Administration allies sealed the deal.

* Perhaps the biggest political winner of last night's victory was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
. She showed once again that she is the best political organizer in America. She aggregated the self-interests of hundreds of individual members. She navigated the dangerous shoals of dozens of contentious, divisive issues. She hammered together the votes to win largely out of her own force of will. For her, failure was not an option.

Her organizing skill was complemented by the enormous but understated talents of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
who convinced his caucus that a reconciliation bill to incorporate the negotiated agreement with the House was the only way to get health care moved. Reid delivered what the House needed - the agreement of 51 Senators to pass the reconciliation bill. Reid will finish his part of the drama this week and - as a by-product -- massively improve his own prospects for re-election this fall.

* Finally, this victory will invigorate the base of the Democratic Party and greatly improve the chances of victory for all Democrats this fall.
Let's remember that Democrats lost control of the House in 1994 because Democrats didn't come out and vote after the failure of health care reform earlier that year. Last night's victory will have precisely the opposite effect.
Not only that, but voters like to support winners. Last night the Democrats in Congress, President Obama and the progressive forces in America won big. The Progressive band wagon has been freed from the mud and is moving once again. It will attract more and more followers as we get closer to the Election Day.

There was another big loser last night -- the "chattering class" of pundits. Turned out that health care, the Obama Presidency, and the progressive movement weren't so dead after all
.


Robert Creamer's recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "So it could well be that, despite the faster spread of the infection, its ultimate health, social and economic impact proves negligible. We simply do not know at this point. But detecting more uncertainty than before, financial markets have reacted with panic. For example, the S&P500 tumbled 2.3% on Friday November 26 only to rise 1.1% on Monday November 29. Most markets gave up between 2% and 4%, which is a pretty substantial one-day fall."
Nov 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Momentous changes are casting a long shadow on China. The country’s political system will soon undergo a profound reform, pending final approval (a quasi-formality) at next year’s congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). President Xi Jinping, the Party chairman and the “navigator” of the country, has decided on a new course, abandoning the principle of collective leadership. Xi is leading China away from the path taken by Deng Xiaoping after the terror of the Cultural Revolution, and back toward a system of absolute rule by one person without term limits, as under Mao Zedong."
Nov 25th 2021
EXTRACTS: "”The biggest disappointment in Glasgow was the last-minute watering down of the proposed (and widely supported) agreement to “phase out” the use of coal in energy production. With India providing political cover for China in vetoing this language, the final conference proposal was to “phase down” coal”. ---- “China accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, and has the largest amount of coal-fired generating capacity under construction. Pressed about why his country would not do more in Glasgow to help save the planet, China’s chief negotiator pointed to the commitments in the Communist Party of China’s current Five-Year Plan. So, our future now depends on the CPC’s program. The tragedy for the world is that the Party cannot be phased down, much less phased out, despite the fact that it is a huge threat to the future of all of us.” ------ “To save the planet, robust democratic leadership must be phased up – not phased down, let alone phased out. Rather than merely keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, we should start by calling out the appalling behavior of dictatorships such as China and Russia.”
Nov 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The transitory inflation debate in the United States is over. The upsurge in US inflation has turned into something far worse than the Federal Reserve expected. Perpetually optimistic financial markets are taking this largely in stride. The Fed is widely presumed to have both the wisdom and the firepower to keep underlying inflation in check. That remains to be seen."
Nov 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "S&P projects that companies are planning to install 44 gigawatts of new solar in 2022. The year 2020, despite the onset of the pandemic, saw a record-breaking 19 gigawatts of new solar capacity installed in the U.S. So given the bids out there already, it appears that in 2022 solar installers will more than double their best year ever so far. The U.S. currently has 100 gigawatts of solar electricity-generating capacity, so in just one year we are poised to add nearly 50% of our current total. A gigawatt of power can provide electricity to about 750,000 homes. So the 44 new gigawatts we’ll put in next year have a nameplate capacity that would under ideal conditions allow them to power 33 million homes." ----- "Not only is there a lot of good news on the green energy front but there is good news in the bad news for fossil fuels. S&P finds that coal plants are being retired way before the utilities had expected. Some 29 gigawatts of coal retirements are expected from 2020 through 2025. "
Nov 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Zemmour’s way of thinking stems from a tradition going back to the French Revolution of 1789. Catholic conservatives and right-wing intellectuals, who hated the secular republic that emerged from the revolution, have long fulminated against liberals, cosmopolitans, immigrants, and other enemies of their idea of a society based on ethnic purity, obedience to the church, and family values. They were almost invariably anti-Semitic. When Jewish army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of betraying his country in the notorious scandal of the 1890s, they were on the side of Dreyfus’s accusers. ---- Germany’s invasion of France in 1940 gave reactionaries of this kind the chance to form a French puppet-government in Vichy. Zemmour has had kind things to say about the Vichy regime. He also has expressed some doubt about the innocence of Dreyfus. ---- None of these views would be surprising if they came from a far-right agitator like Jean-Marie Le Pen. But Zemmour is the son of Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Algeria who lived among the Muslim Berbers."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "performed strongly in last month’s parliamentary and regional elections. Officially, Communist Party candidates took 18.9% of the popular vote for the State Duma (parliament), compared to nearly 49.8% for the Kremlin’s United Russia party. But the Communists refused to recognize the results, insisting that the vote was rigged. And, indeed, some experts estimate that they should have gotten around 30% of the vote, with United Russia taking about 35%."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Powell was charismatic in the true sense of the term. Nowadays, this description is too often used to indicate an ability to attract supporters or generate celebrity interest. Internet lists of those who are regarded as charismatic include characters as varied as Adolf Hitler, Bono, Donald Trump, George Clooney, and Rihanna. But the ancient Greeks and Saint Paul used “charisma” to describe values-based leadership infused with a charm capable of inspiring devotion. The Greeks believed that this quality was a gift of grace, while Christian theology regarded it as a power given by the Holy Spirit."
Oct 17th 2021
EXTRACTS: "But property-sector woes are not the only economic danger China faces in 2021-22. The Chinese government’s mounting crackdown on the country’s burgeoning tech sector may pose an even greater threat." ---- "According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the share of Chinese urban employment supported by private enterprises more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2018, from just 18% to 87%. The share of exports generated by the private sector more than doubled over the same period, from 34% to 88%. And private-sector fixed-asset investment jumped from 42% to 65% of the total. The message in the data is clear: clamping down on the private sector and threatening innovators is not the way to ensure sustained rapid growth. Chinese entrepreneurs can read the writing on the wall. They understand that their political and regulatory room to maneuver is shrinking, and that the balance has shifted in favor of state-owned firms and public officials. And they understand that this uneasy atmosphere is likely to persist."
Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."