04/24/2008 09:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hill : D.C. Dems Back Off Health Care Promises

In a stunning - if predictable - story, the Hill newspaper reports that congressional Democrats are now saying that they will effectively thwart any effort to create a national health care program. Here is the key excerpt:

"Congressional Democrats are backing away from healthcare reform promises made by their two presidential candidates, saying that even if their party controls the White House and Congress, sweeping change will be difficult...Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), a member of Senate Democratic leadership and a key Hillary Clinton ally who also sits on the Finance Committee, said he is 'not sure we have the big plan on healthcare.'...'Healthcare I feel strongly about, but I am not sure that we're ready for a major national healthcare plan,' Schumer said...Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), a Clinton supporter who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said "the money is not necessarily there right now" to enact the plans."

There's a lot to unpack here.

First and foremost, to those in Washington who say the nation should just wait for Washington to act on health care and wait for Democrats to win control of Congress and the presidency, this story exposes the glaring failure of that strategy - especially as states move forward into the breach. Health care reform has to be a dual effort - at the federal level and at the state level. And most likely, real reform is going to start in the states - in part, because Democrats in Washington are so afraid of their own shadow and bought off by Big Money interests that they are now acknowledging that they are no serious about fulfilling their health care promises.

Second, you'll notice the right-wing arguments being made by Democrats in this piece. Schumer, like a reliable Fox News anchor, tells us that America isn't "ready" for national health care plan, despite polls over the last decade showing strong support for such a concept. Likewise, Meek - playing right into the Grover Norquist "drown it in the bathtub" mantra, claims the federal government doesn't have the cash to pay for a health care overhaul - even as Congress continues writing blank checks to fund the Iraq War.

Finally, this reminds us of the need for progressives to focus on building a social movement, rather than exclusively on winning elections. Democrats are effectively saying that no matter how many elections are won, they will not move forward on the most pressing domestic issue. That's because there isn't yet a powerful social movement putting constant pressure on both parties - and instilling fear in both parties. The infrastructure that has been built in recent years is largely partisan rather than movement-oriented - that is, aimed at buttressing the Democratic Party, regardless of what it does. If we are to get health care reform, it will require a movement - not a party.

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