I have been working for Democratic and progressive causes for 29 years, and I don't think I've ever been prouder than today. When David Obey swung that gavel -- the same gavel used to hammer home Medicare -- and struck it on that historic rostrum, it made a joyful noise unto the Lord. And I for one said Hallelujah.
There is no doubt the sweeping changes enacted today will create unforeseen problems -- that is the nature of reform. The one law Congress can never overturn is the Law of Unintended Consequences. But that's why our Founders challenged us to "form a more perfect Union," because true perfection is not possible this side of heaven. Instead, we work to improve, to make progress, to renew.
The merits of the health care law have been debated ad nauseum. I will not revisit them here. Rather, I want to take a moment to salute the raw courage of the women and men who made this possible.
Primus inter pares must be Nancy Pelosi. The House Speaker, so vilified by the right, so caricatured by the press, has etched her name in marble. She has accomplished what no other Speaker could -- not Uncle Joe Cannon, not Mister Sam Rayburn, not Tip or Newt nor any of her predecessors. Health care reform was dead after Scott Brown's remarkable Senate victory in Massachusetts. But Speaker Pelosi would not let it die. The greatest single reason this bill will become law is because of the sheer force of will, the remarkable political skill, and the legislative mastery of Nancy Pelosi. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for House Speakers, her pleasant grin and steely eyes would be on it.
Harry Reid, too, worked wonders. In order to overcome a Republican filibuster, Reid had to bat 1.000 -- corral all 58 Senate Democrats and two Independents. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called the job "herding cats." Harry Reid, through quiet consultation, respectful negotiation and rare grit pulled off a Christmas miracle, mustering 60 votes for health care reform on Christmas Eve.
Pelosi and Reid did all this in the teeth of naysayers and cheap-shot artists who were counseling caution and urging capitulation.
The so-called "Dean" of the Washington press corps, David Broder, told Politico that Reid was not in the same class as revered leaders like Mike Mansfield. "Maybe I have an idealized view of what a Senate leader ought to be," he said. "But I've seen the Senate when a leader could lift it to those heights...I wish it had that kind of leadership now."
In a sense, Broder's right. In 1968, Mansfield presided over a majority of 68 Democrats -- 68. And Senate Republicans included such giants of bipartisanship as Everett McKinley Dirksen, who played a crucial role in passing the Civil Rights Act. And yet even Mansfield could not pass universal health care. With just 58 senators of his party, Reid did what Mansfield could not do with 68 -- and he did it with a GOP dominated by implacable obstructionists who have used the filibuster more in two years than the GOP of Mansfield era did in decades.
To be sure, this is an enormous, historic victory for Pres. Obama. He refused to trim his sails, refused to cut and run, refused to cave in to the timid souls of the commentariat and the hatemongers of the kook right. His cool courage, his dogged determination, his fearless focus are now the stuff of history.
One cannot see this history unfold and not think of those who paved the way. John Dingell, the valiant congressman from Michigan, has been fighting for national health care for 54 years -- and his father before him sponsored national health care legislation in 1935. Speaker Pelosi and her Democrats stand tall today because they stand on the shoulders of Dingell and other giants.
In the Senate, Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats stand on the shoulders of Ted Kennedy. Teddy fought for national health care when Reagan was saying government would screw up a one-car parade. His energy, passion and compassion inspired several generations of Democrats.
And, of course, my old boss Bill Clinton. He was 50 minutes late for the Gridiron Dinner the night before the historic vote. For his tardiness he was privately and bitterly excoriated by a very famous journalist, but this time Clinton was necessarily detained: President Obama had him on the phone, asking for help on a last list of wavering Democrats. Clinton, of course, was happy to help. He, too, shed blood and political capital in the cause of health care reform. He confidently told the media elite: "I am proud to stick up for this President and his Administration. Let me tell you something: they are going to pass health care reform, ladies and gentlemen. Maybe not in my lifetime or Dick Cheney's, but, hopefully, by Easter." Pres. Obama, too, stands on the shoulders of Clinton, two Roosevelts, Truman and Carter, Kennedy and Johnson.
But amidst all this history there is still politics. Let's be realistic: Both history and the economy dictate Democratic losses in November. But passing health care will, I am sure, help mitigate the losses. First because the bill does real good for real people right away: a $500 down payment on the Donut Hole for seniors' medication, the right to carry your adult children on your health insurance until they turn 27, an end to annual caps and lifetime limits, an end to rescissions, a high-risk pool for those too young for Medicare and too middle-class for Medicaid. Second, the only way to disprove the false charges from the Republicans is to actually live under the new law. There will be no death panels. There is no government takeover.
The vast majority of Americans will continue to have the health care they like -- but the biggest difference is the insurance company will no longer be able to cancel it as they can now. Failure on health care would have depressed the Democratic vote and disgusted independents, who would have concluded Democrats can't run the government.
Let the Republicans campaign on repealing this. Why not campaign on repealing Medicare, too? They called that socialized medicine. Why aren't Scott Brown or Mitt Romney calling for repeal of the Massachusetts health care law (upon which this bill is based)?
Nothing succeeds like success. Or, as George S. Patton said to the 6th Armored Division of the Third Army in 1944: "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser." Today the Republicans are losers, and the Democrats -- and every American who worries about getting sick and getting dumped by their insurance company -- are the winners.