By Donna Smith –
Sickening. Saddening. Maddening. And the stuff of future determination in the political struggle for healthcare for all in the United States.
On the floor of the U.S. Senate today, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont rose to offer his single-payer, Medicare for All amendment No. 2837 and to begin debate. Then, one of the two Republican doctors in Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, demanded a full reading of the 700-page amendment.
From the Senate gallery, I watched as Sen. Max Baucus told Sanders the only way to halt the Republican delay tactic would be to withdraw the amendment. Sanders stated emphatically to Baucus, “I will offer this amendment.” But both men left the chamber as the amendment reading went on.
The Republicans seemed to be pleased with the procedural maneuver. Periodically one of the Democratic leadership would walk over to Coburn and chat. He’d smile and lean on his stack of documents – everything being very well staged for the C-SPAN cameras.
I thought how cold and callous it all looked from the gallery – healthcare is not a laughing matter for millions of us. This crisis has killed thousands of our fellow citizens and bankrupted millions more. I fail to find any of that remotely funny or something over which any Senator ought to feel pride as he or she blocks progress towards a better healthcare system.
The words of the amendment were clear and clean. And though not many were there to actually listen, I couldn’t help but hear the details of the amendment and wish people could grasp the simple beauty of knowing each of us, all of us would have the care we need when we needed it at a lower cost. Instead, we’re going to have more of the mess we have now – more insurance company influence over our lives and our bodies, and in many cases at a higher cost.
Single-payer, amendment number 2837 sounded pretty good to me. I was more than willing to wait out the Republican mischief and the Democrats’ worry about not passing something – anything – before Christmas. I was more than willing to listen to every word.
After two hours of reading page after page of the amendment, Sanders stepped back up to his desk and withdrew the amendment. The reading stopped. And the fight for single-payer, Medicare for all died for this Congressional cycle.
Senator Sanders stood proudly and defiantly at the microphone and delivered the floor speech on behalf of single-payer. By then it was all over except for getting his intelligent remarks and his passion on the record. Those who care about where we need to go with this nation’s healthcare system should listen to Senator Sanders’ floor speech from today, December 16, 2009.
The fight will go on. As surely as the deaths attributable to a lack of access to healthcare in the United States will continue to mount and as surely as the number of bankruptcies directly related to medical crisis will also continue to rise, so too will the cry for real healthcare justice. This Congress and this President are not going to get to the place we needed them to go. They are not extending healthcare as a basic human right to all of us.
It makes me wish I had purchased a little health insurance stock along the way. Because as soon as Joe Lieberman made sure that he cleared out any chance of any public insurance expansion at all from this bill, the for-profit health insurance companies saw their stocks begin to rise again.
So, how do we get through this cycle? Will there be a conference committee effort to restore a state based single-payer amendment to health reform legislation? Or will we just watch as Congress passes some messy piece of something that isn’t likely to do very much at all to mitigate the healthcare crisis in this nation just to claim they did something?
And what of the single-payer advocates and movement? Well, in the words of the brave nurses who never took “no” for an answer on other healthcare issues from the “Governator” or anyone else, “We’ll be back.” Healthcare is a human right now and it will be when we win this struggle. It’s just going to take more time and, unfortunately, more suffering to get where we need to go.
Meanwhile, many of us wait anxiously for reports out of Pennsylvania where they were having a state Senate hearing today on their state single-payer bill. We have miles to go before we sleep.