By now, I don't need to tell you that today is an important day. Really, it's almost a surreal day, made particularly so when my Blackberry started going berserk in my Foreign Relations Committee hearing with conflicting reports of what the Supreme Court's decision actually meant.
But as the dust settles, we know two things are true -- and there's a third and fourth we need to make true.
First, it's an incredibly important day for the Supreme Court.
Second, it's a hugely consequential day for every American who ever feared going bankrupt because of a medical emergency, or who was dropped by their insurance company because of a pre-existing condition, or couldn't count on their health insurance to pay out what they'd paid in when they actually got sick. These things are a big deal to people's lives that have absolutely nothing to do with politics.
The third important thing has to do with politics -- because somehow, some way we need to make this an important day for our politics and our debates in our country. Today needs to mark at least the beginning of a process that brings us back to an honest discussion of health care in our country.
I've never seen anything quite like what we witnessed these last three years, when opponents of health reform did everything they could to distort and deceive. They tried to scare the American public with outright lies about "death panels" and "socialized medicine." (Never mind that we didn't try to write a single-payer bill, and never mind that even a modest public option was put aside in order to get the bill passed. Bottom line, the critics willfully discarded the facts throughout this long debate.)
And, of course, when that ugly August of 2009 ran its course, and when all the distortions didn't work, the critics came up with a new strategy: claim that the individual mandate the Republican Party itself had invented was now unconstitutional.
Today the Roberts Court put an end to that debate, and now we need to make this the moment when those who have sought to demonize health reform have to put an end to their scare tactics. Whether they like it or not, the conservative court has said this isn't "unconstitutional Obamacare", this is America's health care and it passes constitutional muster. We need to make it clear that the new test is not what you can oppose, but what you can propose.
It's been a good run for the opponents of health care reform -- almost a century of stopping reform dead in its tracks. But that ended today.
Now they need to come forward with a plan of their own if they think there's a better answer.
And they need to do what they've done before: accept reality. Keep in mind, we've been here before. Opponents claimed that a lot of things we take for granted today were unconstitutional -- whether it was Social Security, the GI Bill, or Medicare and Medicaid. Finally, they accepted that those advances were here to stay. They offered alternatives -- changes, cuts -- but they accepted that we weren't going back to an America where half our senior citizens were living in poverty or an America where senior citizens didn't have health care -- or an America that sent people to war but didn't send them to college.
That's what we need to do with health care. We need to end the phony debate about whether we're going to go backwards or whether the Courts will wipe away our progress, and instead we must actually move forward so that, by the end of the decade 33 million people who don't have it today will finally have access to quality and affordable health coverage.
And the fourth thing we need to do is what wasn't done effectively after this bill was passed: tell the story of what we've achieved.
I have little interest in looking backwards, but because some people didn't think the Affordable Care Act was all it should be -- and others thought we'd won and were ready to move on to the next fight --- it is no secret that we haven't told a great story very well.
Let's tell it now. This Court decision has given us a whole new moment of focus to actually talk with Americans about what's at stake, and what they would lose if Mitt Romney was elected President with a Republican House and Republican Senate.
It's not complicated.
Just think about this:
Because of the Affordable Care Act, young people can remain on their parent's insurance plans until age 26 and insurance companies can no longer deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, like cancer, diabetes, and even pregnancy.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, women can no longer be charged more for insurance than men just because of their gender and all Americans can no longer be charged more for insurance based on their health.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, seniors on Medicare get help with their prescription drug costs and receive free preventive services like mammograms, flu shots, and diabetes screenings.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, small businesses can continue to receive tax credits to offer health coverage to their employees.
If that's not worth fighting for, what is?
So this is a big day. A very big day. But if we keep at it, if we make this the day when we started to end the health care distortions and the day when we started telling the story of health reform, then it'll be an even bigger day for our country.
Enough time has been wasted in the United States Congress on pointless repeal votes designed to score political points. Too much time has been wasted on a legislative temper tantrum. Too much time has been squandered scaring Americans instead of helping them.
Let's make this the day we got back to the business of implementing a constitutional law that will give 33 million Americans the health coverage they deserve, the reforms that make care more affordable for all Americans, and the progress our country needs.