What’s Left : A Rough Road Ahead

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James Bourne

The Affordable Health Care for America Act passed on Saturday night, and that’s good news. But for liberals, this historic bill is cause to celebrate, not to gloat.

To say that it received bipartisan support is a stretch at best (only one Republican voted for the act) and the bill passed through the House the same way blood squeezes through a clogged artery: narrowly and not without severe discomfort or risk.

That much aside, the House made a historic leap forward in the progress of health care reform in the United States. From Teddy Roosevelt, who didn’t even get elected president on his 1912 platform that included health care, to the ill-fated HillaryCare, America has never been this close to actually passing comprehensive reform. But despite the progress so far, we aren’t there yet.

Now liberals and conservatives are sitting with all eyes on the Senate looking for different outcomes – and the view isn’t pretty. It’s pretty clear that the Senate version will pass or fail with a margin similarly narrow to the House version.

Republicans are unlikely to concede any votes. Political meteorologists have conflicting forecasts on Senator Snowe’s intentions and she seems to be the only chance the Democrats have at “bipartisan” support for the bill.

What’s less clear is who will end up where when it comes down to the wire. Some Democrats and a certain Independent may prove to be the death of the bill in the Senate.

Independent and former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate (it’s been an interesting nine years to say the least) Joe Lieberman may be the biggest obstacle for Harry Reid in his attempt to push the senate version through. In an interview with FOX News, Lieberman said, “If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote.”

In other words, Lieberman will allow a filibuster if the bill contains any direct threat to the huge Connecticut-based insurance lobby. But Lieberman isn’t the only wandering sheep in Reid’s flock. Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson have also expressed doubts about the Senate version, although Nelson has stated that he would not support a filibuster.

In regards to Landrieu (arguably one of the worst Senators on either side of the aisle), it is unclear what she supports other than the fact that she does not support the public option.

“I’m not for a government-run, national, taxpayer-subsidized plan, and never will be,” said Landrieu, ignoring the fact that she supports Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran’s Administration, S-CHIP and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan that she herself uses.

Landrieu also must contend with a conservative constituency in a state that voted overwhelmingly for John McCain, so it isn’t a far stretch to conclude that her own job, not her principles, is her biggest motivating factor. In the same basket as Landrieu is Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a state where Obama lost by over 20 percentage points. She has said that she will vote in the manner best for Arkansas, but in reality, she intends to vote in a manner that is best for reelection chances next year.

As if that weren’t enough, other Democrats are threatening to vote against the bill if it does not have a public option. The most obnoxious of these is Roland Burris, who treats left-wing credibility as a grenade treats a grass hut: by shredding it to bits and incinerating the remains. Burris, who owes his very seat to Obama’s election (and a certain corrupt ex-governor), has no basis for drawing such a deep line in the sand. Illinoisans may be in favor of the public option, but the already unpopular Burris has nothing to gain by derailing health care and crossing Obama.

So while it is certainly wonderful for liberals that the House managed to pass a bill, the fight is far from over. Senator Reid faces huge challenges in passing a Senate version, not the least of which are from within his own caucus. This is a time to celebrate a battle won, not to gloat over a war that is unfortunately far from finished.

Contact James Bourne at [email protected]