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Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer

Posted: September 3, 2009 08:58 AM

Why Health Insurance Reform Will Pass This Fall -- It's the High Political Ground

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Forget about the talking heads' narrative about the "sagging prospects" of President Obama's health insurance reform proposal. Much of the same gang was completely convinced that Obama could never win the nomination -- and once nominated would have a hard time winning the election.

You have to wonder sometimes if there shouldn't be a penalty for pundits who make self-assured predictions that are regularly wrong, and yet continue to be treated as if they know what they're talking about.

The fact is that the odds are very good that President Obama will succeed in passing landmark health insurance reform legislation this fall - with a robust public health insurance option. The reason is simple: it's the high political ground.

Health insurance reform represents the high political ground for four major reasons:

1). Most Americans - including swing voters - can't stand the health insurance industry. As Congress reconvenes, the Administration and its allies will unleash a major drive to correctly define the battle as a contest between the interests of private health insurance companies and ordinary Americans. Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the big coalition of progressive organizations and Labor, will put it this way: If the insurance companies win, you lose.

They will systematically define just how the big private insurers impact ordinary people and how the Obama health insurance reform proposal will solve the problem.

It's a pretty compelling narrative. For decades, the health insurance companies have made a fortune (over $60 billion in profits over the last eight years) by denying claims, denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions, making health care decisions instead of doctors and raising premiums almost four time faster than wages.

And all the while the CEO's of the ten largest insurers made an average of $8.5 million in pay last year - about $4,100 per hour.

Think about the campaign commercial that paints the picture of the incumbent Member of Congress who votes for health insurance CEO's like Cigna's Edward Hanway -- who will retire with a $73 million golden parachute this fall - and votes against patients who are denied coverage for their cancer treatments. It is not a pretty political picture and it will become more and more vivid in the minds of Members of Congress as November 2010 comes into view over the political horizon.

2). The Obama Administration will use every ounce of its political capital to win this battle. The President and his top advisors understand that -- when it comes to health care -- failure is simply not an option. They know that defeat on health care would be a huge blow to the President's ability to pass his entire agenda and his own standing with the voters. People follow successful leaders - not those who fail.

As a result, the President will use every bit of his charm, his persuasive ability and the formidable powers of the Presidency to secure the votes to win.

And make no mistake. While Barack Obama would prefer a bi-partisan bill passed through the regular order with broad consensus, he has an iron will and will pass a bill by one vote using special budget procedures if that is necessary to win. He is a huge fan of Lincoln's Team of Rivals, but in matters of legislation his model is Lyndon Johnson.

Anyone who doubts the strength of his resolve - or his resourcefulness - doesn't yet understand Barack Obama.

3). As the vote grows closer, many moderate Democrats will begin to realize the price they will pay personally if health insurance reform fails. After the defeat of the Clinton health care proposal in 1994, it was not the most progressive members of the Democratic Caucus who lost when the Republicans took back control of the House - it was the moderates and conservatives.

The fact is that just as a rising tide raises all boats, when the tide recedes, it is those in the shallowest political water who are left aground.

If the President's positives -- and those of the Democratic Party -- plummet because they fail to pass health insurance reform (which is exactly what the Republicans believe will happen), moderate Democrats -- even those who opposed the bill -- will pay the price at the polls. In the final analysis after all, even in more conservative districts, if swing voters decide they like Democrats less, they are likely to vote for a real Republican not a Democrat who acts like one.

This principle works for both parties. Last year, when the political tide receeded for Republicans across the country, the losers were not Members from bright red districts. They were people like Norm Coleman and Gordon Smith who turned themselves into pretzels to look "moderate".

4). Finally, the pundits have ignored a critically important new development : the Obama base has been energized.

Early in August, Progressives were surprised at the ferocity of the right wing assault on Congressional town meetings. But it didn't take long for them to respond. Led by Obama's own organization , Organize for America (OFA), as well as HCAN, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- hundreds of thousands of Progressives have been mobilized to counter the Right. They swamped the Right at town meetings at the end of August and are now conducting a week of 2000 "Let's Get It Done" events in the lead-up to Congress' return.

There is no longer any lack of progressive intensity. The right wing assault awakened progressive passion that has spread like the Los Angeles wildfires.

My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, hosted a town meeting in Skokie, Illinois on Monday night that attracted 2,300 people. Eighty-percent supported reform -- and they were pumped.

The response of voters asked to call Congress about health insurance reform has exploded.

Some of the millions of Americans who were engaged and mobilized by last year's Presidential campaign may have taken a respite from politics in the early months of 2009 - but they're back - and they are a massive political army that cannot be taken lightly.

In other words, as Members of Congress reconvene on the battleground for this fall's decisive engagement over health insurance reform, they will look up the political ridge and see that the cavalry has arrived.

I believe we will win.


Robert Creamer is a longtime political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.