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How Much Slower Would Be Acceptable?

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When the Democrats started the health care reform process a year ago, they held the White House, The House of Representatives by a 78 vote majority, and the Senate by a 58-41 majority.

After the loss in the special election last week in Massachusetts, they hold the White House, the House of Representatives by a 78 vote majority, and the Senate by a 59-41 majority.

So obviously, it's time to give up.

There's Senator Snowe, the only Republican seemingly willing to negotiate at all, saying that, "said she tried to warn Democrats, including Mr. Obama, that they were pushing too hard too fast."

Yeah... too fast. That's the problem with health care reform. We've been moving too fast.

Way back in 1912, almost a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket, pledging national health insurance for Americans. He lost to Woodrow Wilson, and so did the country's chance for robust health care reform. I guess he moved too fast.

In 1932, the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care, headed by Secretary of the Interior Wilbur, recommended:

Socialization of medical care for the people of the United States, based on a system of group practice and group payment, with community medical centres to provide complete medical service, both preventive and therapeutic, in return for weekly or monthly fees, in the form of insurance, taxation, or both

This was, or course, called socialism. The opposition, of course, said the issue was one "between incitement to revolution and a desire for gradual evolution based upon analysis and study." That's high-faulting talk for "they're moving too fast."

In 1945, after becoming President, Harry Truman called for the creation of National Health Insurance. However, before he could get anything enacted, the Republicans won control of Congress in 1946, and his hopes for reform became unobtainable. In 1948, however, President Truman won re-election with a mandate for health care reform. The Democrats even retook control of Congress. But conservative Democrats wound up blocking his efforts.

Sound familiar?

President Kennedy tried again in the early 1960s, but was also blocked by conservative Southern Democrats. President Johnson failed similarly in his first term. After a landslide victory in 1964, though, with a 150+ vote majority in the House and a 26 vote majority in the Senate, they passed Medicare; even then they couldn't get health care reform for everyone, just the elderly.

Or course, those opposed to reform claimed the process was socialism and the end of freedom. None of that turned out to be true, of course. You'd think that no one had heard those arguments before. Maybe, since things were moving so fast no one had paid close attention.

In the 1970's Senator Ted Kennedy tried again for National Health Insurance. President Nixon, in an effort to cut him off, proposed his own brand of more conservative reform. Ironically, his proposal is arguably more liberal than the "socialism" working its way through Congress now. But, because there were too many different ideas (and some losses and gains in Congress), reform stalled.

Sound familiar?

I wont even go into President Clinton's efforts. But let's remember they occurred in the early 1990's. That was a pretty long time ago.

How slow do we need to move? When will America be ready for health care reform?

Throughout much of the Democratic primary, Senators Clinton and Obama debated health care reform. That started in 2006. Throughout the entire general election in 2008, Senators Obama and McCain debated health care reform. About one year ago, President Obama asked Congress to work on health care reform.

Was no one paying attention? How long is it supposed to take?

Back to Senator Snowe. There she was days ago telling us we need to slow down. I'd give her more credit, but she's said that before. In December:

"The more they try to, sort of, drive this process in an unrealistic timeframe, the more reluctant I become about whether or not this can be doable in this timeframe that we're talking about," Snowe told reporters today.

Throughout the health care debate, Snowe has often pushed the principals to slow things down. So what might make her less reluctant?

"There's always January," Snowe said. "Frankly, I understand the value of deadlines, but this is getting, I think, unrealistic in terms of where we stand today."

Huh. That sounded familiar. Maybe because she'd said the same thing in October:

"Well, Christmas might be too soon," Snowe told Bloomberg's Al Hunt in an interview that will air throughout the weekend. "Well, you know, there's always that possibility. I know that's not what the president prefers."

Snowe refused to say that such a delay was likely, but added that "nothing would surprise me because of the complexity [of the issue]." She said that a vote would likely not come much before Christmas should it be held before recess.

She stressed the need to give the bill "the time it deserves," something she has routinely said during negotiations.

"[The American people] don't want it put on a fast track. They want us to give it the thought it needs and requires, and that's why I've tried to slow the process down," she said.

Yeah. That might have carried more weight if she hadn't also said it back in July:

The letter, obtained by the Huffington Post, was drafted by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and is also signed by Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, signed on, as did Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- moderates heavily courted by President Obama.

The organized effort to slow down the process is a blow to the reform effort. Obama has pushed hard for a final vote before the August recess, arguing that delaying until September could slow momentum and risk missing a historic opportunity.

How slow is slow enough? The facts of the matter are that reform can't realistically take more than two years, when the entire House is re-elected. The Congress who writes the law has to pass it. That's pretty much the way it always works. You can't ask Congresspeople to vote on legislation they didn't debate or write.

Will no one ask the question? How much slower would be acceptable?

It's not as if any of the arguments against health care reform are new. Socialism? Government takeover of health care? We've been there before.

Last July, I was sitting across from Stephen Colbert who said that health care was never going to work because they were giving the Republicans a timetable for withdrawal by demanding it be passed by August. "This was never going to be easy, " I replied. "The longer they wait, the more it's likely this could be unpopular." That wasn't any great insight. I just knew we've been here before. Over and over again.

If you believe the Republicans, or anyone else, has a valid and new argument against reform, then so be it. If you believe that watching more "debate" on C-Span will produce a better bill, then more power to you. But if you buy into the rhetoric that we're moving too fast, you just haven't been paying attention.

Read more about health care policy and get your questions answered at Rational Arguments.

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