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Denise Dennis Headshot

Blue Dog Dems: Are You Listening?

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Members of the Democrat-controlled Congress have a real opportunity to make history this year, by passing legislation to reform our costly and unwieldy health care system.

Speaking on the Charlie Rose program last week, Denis Cortese, President and CEO of the Mayo Clinic said, "We have no health care system...so it can't be fixed."

By this, he meant that health care in the United States has never been a well-organized and coordinated system nationally. Rather, it is made up of various separate parts, each operating independently -- and thus wastefully. Working with the Obama Administration, today's Congress has the power to help create a system that will give all Americans access to affordable, high quality health care.

This year presents an auspicious time for Congressional Democrats, in both houses, to stand together -- united -- and pass health care legislation. The Blue Dog Democrats need to think about this: they can go down in history as members of a Congress that successfully worked together and acted boldly to pass landmark legislation that will provide access to affordable coverage and quality health care for all Americans. Or, the Blue Dog Democrats will go on record as men and women who, at an opportune moment in history, lacked courage and failed to act.

Voters reward courage, not procrastination and stalemate. If Congress doesn't pass health care reform this year, voters in their districts are more likely to punish Blue Dog Democrats for dropping the ball and accomplishing nothing, and not return them to Congress in the next election cycle. On the other hand, if the Democratic-controlled Congress achieves this historic legislation -- proving that they are indeed working on behalf of "We the People" -- Blue Dog Democrats are more likely to be re-elected by grateful constituents.

To those Blue Dog Democrats and obstructionist Republicans who disingenuously say we're moving too fast on health care reform, I say the people of the United States have been waiting a century for health care legislation. "Procrastination is the thief of time," as my mother used to say.

Nearly 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt introduced health care into the 1912 Presidential campaign when he was running -- not as a Republican, but as the Progressive Party candidate. Teddy Roosevelt suffered from asthma throughout his childhood; his beloved older sister "Bamie" had a severe curvature of the spine; his younger sister, Corinne, had asthma though not as acute as TR's; their youngest brother, Elliott (Eleanor Roosevelt's father) suffered seizures from adolescence through adulthood. Their father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. did all he could, regardless of the cost, to help his children. A philanthropist, he founded the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital for children deformed by spinal disease. The Roosevelts were wealthy, they didn't have to think about the less fortunate, but they did. As the Progressive Party candidate, TR had the compassion and true sense of democracy to believe that quality health care should not be available only to the privileged few.

Republicans like to name TR as a President they admire. If moderate Republicans want to emulate and honor Theodore Roosevelt, they can do so by joining their Democratic colleagues in Congress and passing health care legislation this year.

After 1912, the possibility of heath care legislation languished to the point of vanishing altogether until the 1930s when TR's cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat -- and a polio survivor -- was President. When FDR proposed legislation for Social Security and unemployment insurance to help Americans, the opponents of his day were as vociferous and vicious as today's opponents of health care reform. In fact, they used the same tactics -- name-calling and fear-mongering. FDR's opponents called him a socialist and claimed that Social Security would be tantamount to a government take-over of their lives. Sound familiar?

The original draft of Social Security legislation, health care was included; but in order to get the measure through Congress, it was cut. Social Security passed in 1935 -- without health care.

In the Post-World War II era, Harry Truman, too, tried to ensure affordable, quality health care for all Americans; and in 1993, the Clinton Administration, under the auspices of First Lady Hillary Clinton, once again introduced health care legislation to Congress. Both efforts met with fierce resistance. We are now in the 21st Century, though, and the time for health care legislation is ripe.

Blue Dog Democrats, are you listening? We have been waiting a century for health care legislation -- and last year, "We the People" elected a Democratic President and Congress to make sure that this time, the job would get done. If you do not stand with your Democratic colleagues and pass this legislation, you will be on the wrong side of history and in disfavor among your fellow countrymen and women.