It is nice to be able to write, now, about the new health care reform law, as opposed to the health care reform bill. With President Obama’s signature, we are now irrevocably on a path to universal access to health coverage. (Sr. Carol Keehan received one of the twenty pens Obama used to sign the landmark legislation, in recognition of her hard work in crafting the new law.) As the USCCB mentioned in their statement yesterday, that is a major achievement.
Despite my plea last week, the recriminations have begun. One website has a link to a clip from the movie "A Man for All Seasons" when Thomas More confronts Richard Rich, and suggests that Sister Carol was, like Rich, selling out God for political power. Nice. Congressman Bart Stupak, whose pro-life credentials need no defense from anyone, has received death threats – the irony is stunning – from pro-life advocates who believe he abandoned their cause. And, you have to love those attorneys-general who are suing to challenge the law’s constitutionality. Just yesterday, weren’t these same actors warning us against judicial activism mangling our political system?
The bishops strike a different note and it is one that we pro-life Catholics who supported the bill must take to heart. We must be watchful. The President and many members of Congress said that the new law would not in anyway violate the letter or the spirit of the Hyde Amendment. (It is to be remembered that pro-choice groups objected to the original Stupak Amendment not because it banned public funds for abortion but because it had the effect of banning private funds too.) Indeed, the Executive Order the President negotiated with Cong. Stupak is one large promise that the law, not just as it is written but as it will be implemented, will abide by the Hyde Amendment restrictions. It is our job to hold the President and members of Congress to those promises, but I do not think it will take much effort. I can’t imagine how anyone thinks it would be in the President’s political interest to violate the pledges he made and all politicians, of every place, time and party, can usually be counted upon to pursue their political interest.
Because there was so much disinformation about the contents of the legislation, Democrats need to continue to sell the new law. The President clearly understands this, placing 11 year-old Marcelas Owens next to him as he signed the new law. Owens’ mother died because she lacked insurance and could not afford care. The President has regained his voice in the past month and he should use it to help Americans understand the many things in this law that they will like and to point out that the sky has not fallen.
Members of Congress, however, need to do their part. Pro-life members should schedule events at the community health centers, which became so controversial in the final weeks of the debate, to demonstrate that they do not perform abortions. All pro-health care members should schedule events around the time of college graduation, noting that until the new law passed, one of the first questions a graduating senior asked was where they were going to find health insurance. Have a photo-op with students and their parents who will be taking advantage of the law’s provision allowing young people to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. Most importantly, escort someone with a pre-existing condition to go sign up for the high-risk pool the new law establishes. There is much confusion about when the pre-existing condition rules change and for whom, but they are the symbolic centerpiece of what needed to be changed about the insurance system.
So, the legislative debate gives way to a political debate, which is how we do things in this great country of ours. I suspect that the "Repeal" effort will come a cropper quickly as most Republicans – other than the Tea Party folk – recognize the limits of that approach. Both parties have their own reasons to find some common ground on other issues in the next few months, the Republicans so that they do not get tagged as the Party of No, and the Democrats so they do not get tagged as purely partisan. The President should reach out to moderate Republicans and help find that common ground. And everyone else should, as I counseled before, back off with the recriminations. They do not serve anyone’s interest including your own.