Let’s get real. We’re not going to fix the health care system with this Congress, or maybe any Congress. But this past week, there were at least signs of hope that maybe we can patch it up.
Those signs of hope came when, in both the Senate and the House, some Republicans and Democrats started to try to work together.
That last sentence may dismay you if you believe the other side is evil, and the only way to get anything accomplished is to gain power and then do what you want.
But this is America. That approach might be the norm in Venezuela, where the increasingly dictatorial leader recently held a sham election and then arrested two of his opponents. But here, we don’t imprison each other over politics. We’re a big, diverse, free country, and we’re stuck with each other, so we’d better work together.
Besides, when major policies are passed by only one party, as Obamacare was, two things can happen. First, the other party can sabotage the legislation at all levels of government, and it will succeed at least in part. Second, that party someday will take power in Washington again, and then it can undo the legislation, or at least let it fail. In 2009, Democrats held the White House and strong majorities, including 60 votes in the Senate. By 2015, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and now they have the White House too. Before long, the pendulum will swing the other direction. So even if Republicans had managed to pass health care reform themselves, it wouldn’t have succeeded and wouldn’t have lasted.
Now we’ll get what Sen. John McCain called for when he voted against the Republican-only bill, and what we should have had all along: an open legislative process where members of both parties talk with each other instead of at each other.
In the Senate, grown-up Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Patty Murray, D-Washington, announced their Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings where health care experts, patients and insurers will actually have a voice.
They hope to make small, bipartisan changes to stabilize the individual health markets serving the 10 million Americans who buy insurance on their own (and where 300,000 lower-income people are insured through the Arkansas Works program). The individual markets are where rates are rising most unsustainably and where insurers must lock in next year’s rates by the end of September. Last month, Arkansas’ insurers requested increases of between 7.8 and 22 percent, and those numbers were much lower than in many other states.
Meanwhile, in the House, a group of about 40 Republicans and Democrats known as the Problem Solvers Caucus announced their own bipartisan plan. No members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation were involved.
I’m sorry, folks, but this is the way it’s going to have to be done, because this is the United States, not Venezuela, and here, we’re supposed to work things out through principled compromise. The Constitution itself was written by passionate men of divergent views and backgrounds who disagreed about much but agreed that power must be limited. In the long hot, summer of 1787, they produced a document that assured, thankfully, that no one gets everything they want. The result was what has become the world’s oldest and most enduring democracy. And they did it without air-conditioning.
So no, Republicans were never going to fix health care with a 50-50 tie vote broken by the vice president, just as Democrats could not fix it alone with Obamacare.
Together, hopefully they can patch it up. It’s not permanent and it’s not perfect, but time is running out before next year’s rates set in, and what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.