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The People’s House Provides Glimpse of Real Democracy: Healthcare Reform Debate Provides Bipartisan Victory

In recent years there has been little to claim coming out of Washington, DC, that resembles the vision of the democracy envisioned for this nation by our founders.  But yesterday in perhaps the most unlikely way, our Congress witnessed a victory that crossed party lines, ideological lines and even heavy and sustained lobbying by everyone from White House operatives to single payer activists.  But this was a win for the people -- and it came in the People’s House. 

Human rights met states rights.  Bipartisan effort fought for and against, and in the final recorded vote, an amendment offered in the United States House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee by Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio won handily.  The issue?  Should states be granted federal program waivers if they choose to pass and implement single payer, publicly funded, privately delivered healthcare systems for their residents?

Ultimately, in the wee hours of the morning on voice vote, the amendment passed despite arguments against it by those who somehow would deny states like California, where single payer has passed the state legislature twice only to be vetoed by the governor, the ability to successfully implement a single payer system.  Other states are forging ahead with legislation aimed not only at providing healthcare for all but also providing relief from the crushing budget woes that stem from healthcare costs for public employees and retirees that threaten everything from roads to schools to sewer projects to filling potholes.

Enough about single payer for the moment.  President Barack Obama has called for bipartisan effort on the health reform crisis.  And to date we’ve seen few real and solid examples.  We’ve heard all the old saws about socialism and stretching the federal budget with program development.  And we’ve seen the Democrats breaking campaign promises on everything from taxation of benefits to insurance mandates.

But in the House Labor and Education Committee where Mr. Kucinich brought his amendment, finally we saw and heard some debate based in Constitutional law ( the 10th amendment protects states rights) and also heard debate on allowing states to develop single payer. Republicans praised the effort for its recognition of 10th amendment protections while Democrats struggled with how to tow the line for the Obama healthcare vision and the thousands of activists and constituents calling and emailing and writing for support of single payer.

Undoubtedly there was a lot of political gamesmanship in the vote.  No matter.  Each side had its agenda and its pushes and pulls.

When the vote came down, it was breathtaking in its depth and in its complexity and simplicity of purpose all at once.  Big “D” democracy – the people matter in the People’s House meets little “d” democracy as healthcare reform shapes up.

There is hope yet friends.  And there is cause for celebration and praise.  Our Democracy can still listen and function.  Thank you to Dennis Kucinich for shepherding this amendment through.  Thank you to the Committee for allowing the debate and the vote.  And thank you to the millions who support healthcare as a human right for believing that we can move single payer forward and we can do it together.

It may have been a little more bipartisan than President Obama wished for… and it may prove once and for all that single payer is not off the table for the American people, whether they are in Oregon or California, Pennsylvania or Illinois, Colorado or Missouri, Ohio or Montana, Utah or Florida, Nevada or New York, Maine or Maryland, Minnesota or Virginia…  or even inside the infamous Beltway where every so often we see an example of the democratic process at its best.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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