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NYT editorial: Obama, Dems should continue health care fight

January 26, 2010

Many have spent time reading, and in my opinion mis-reading, the tea leaves in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

The election saw Republican Scott Brown come from behind to beat Democrat Martha Coakley, state attorney general, with Brown riding what many have seen to be a wave of discontent over health care reform proposals.

I’ve been amazed at how quickly many extrapolate from a single election to arrive at the conclusion that the masses are rising up against health care reform as an idea, and that merits a need for wholesale change this November. Columnist Thomas Sowell, who we run in the Messenger-Inquirer, said Congress, and particularly Republicans, should mind the results of this election when looking ahead to November.

From Sowell’s column last week

The stakes in this fall’s elections go far beyond the fate of either the Republican party or the Democratic party. The fate of America is on the line. The Republicans need to understand that — and to understand that they are not simply “due” because of polls.

But as the New York Times notes today in its editorial, it’s more worrisome that Congress, and the Democratic leadership there, will look at last week’s defeat in Massachusetts as  reason to abandon efforts toward health care reform that have come so far.

From the editorial

It would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to abandon comprehensive health care reform just because voters in the Massachusetts Senate race last week decided that they liked the Republican, Scott Brown, more than the Democrat, Martha Coakley. …

If the Democrats quit now, so close to the goal line, the opportunity for large-scale reform could be lost for years. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured, currently more than 46 million, will keep going up and the cost of health care will continue to soar.

Many panicky Democrats see Mr. Brown’s win as proof that angry voters will punish them in November if they press ahead with reform. We believe that is a misreading of what happened and what’s possible.

It’s hard for me to believe that the fate of an issue as sweeping and broad should be decided by a simple majority of voters in one state. But it’s easy to understand that both opponents and proponents will read into events for evidence that supports their point of view.

As the New York Times notes in its editorial, those that support health care reform need to do a better job of explaining what this effort will do rather than to continue to let the discussion be molded by those who would oppose it.

From the editorial –

Democrats should take another look at what really happened in Massachusetts and then summon the nerve to enact comprehensive reform. They must make clear to voters that they have little to fear. Even the mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance doesn’t kick in until 2014. And they must make clear that reform offers immediate gains, especially for middle-class Americans. …

Recent polls show that the public is divided, with more opposing the bills than favoring them. The negatives have been driven up by critics’ distortions about a supposed government takeover of medicine and the tawdry deal-making necessary to win 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Still, a recent national poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that large shares of people became more supportive when told about such provisions as tax credits for small businesses that offer coverage, exchanges where people could choose among competing policies, and rules against denying coverage.

What’s currently being debated in Washington, D.C., is the beginning of a larger effort to reform this country’s health delivery system, and how its residents pay for health care. This bill won’t be the be-all or end-all, and a solitary election in New England should not define the chances to make real changes in this country’s broken health care system.

Anyone think differently?

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