WASHINGTON — It’s a mighty cold — and perhaps even snowy — summer day on Capitol Hill when you hear conservatives suggesting that private sector companies shouldn’t be made whole for losses they suffer for participating in a benevolent but untested new federal program.
Yet that’s exactly what many Republicans are doing because they bear a longstanding grudge against the nation’s health insurers’ cooperation in a sweeping new law designed to give 19 million Americans access to medical coverage for the first time in their lives.
Considering the Herculean task of trying to implement the 2,400-page bill passed by a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, President Barack Obama acted legally — one might even argue righteously — in trying to untangle its many ambiguities with a few clarifying paragraphs here and there.
After all, even then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told her colleagues at the time, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Obama and his White House staff, in fact, had a far better idea of the law’s major elements than most of the senators and House members who voted for it.
The important thing in their minds was to pass the first major health care legislation in more than 40 years first and fine-tune it later.
Good presidents often play politics that way. It’s called leadership, and there’s nothing particularly illegal or unconstitutional about it.
Of course, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and now-departed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius managed to lure both the health insurers and the big pharmaceutical manufacturers to the drafting table by enticing them with dreams of millions of new potential customers.
Free-market conservatives yelped about those companies participating in legislation they view as “socialized medicine.” But the health insurers and pill makers were simply being realistic. Big business, like the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton, always goes “where the money is.” In this case, the loot was big piles of cash worth multibillions.
Of course, if the Democrats had remained true to the progressive heritage of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, they could have passed something easily less complex and certainly less costly — a single-payer act like those so popular in Canada and most of the European Union.
If that had happened, millions of Americans wouldn’t be scrambling to find reasonably priced health insurance among a baffling complex of health care exchanges, trying to replace abruptly canceled policies or find a new doctor they like as much as the one they were repeatedly assured they could keep.
And the Democrats’ Republican foes wouldn’t have been handed the gold-plated issue that seems likely to give them full control of the House and Senate when the votes are tallied this fall.
Whether or not that happens, President Obama has the right and deserves the chance to rewrite as much of this discombobulated law as he can. Things are what they are, and this is just another example of the president’s well-honed Chicago-style pragmatism.
And all Americans — those currently seeking first-time health coverage or those desperately seeking to replace lost policies — deserve both consistency and clarity about a piece of legislation that so clearly affects the quality of their everyday lives.
Wayne Madsen is a contributor to www.waynemadsenreport.com. Readers may write to him at the National Press Club front desk, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20045.