E.J. Dionne: Yes, they made history





[E.J. Dionne is a twice-weekly columnist for The Post, writing on national policy and politics.]

Yes, we did.

Finally, President Obama can use those words. The passage of health-care reform provided the first piece of incontestable evidence that Washington has changed.

Congress is, indeed, capable of carrying through fundamental social reform. No longer will the United States be the outlier among wealthy nations in leaving so many of its citizens without basic health coverage.

In approving the most sweeping piece of social legislation since the mid-1960s, Democrats proved that they can govern, even under challenging circumstances and in the face of significant internal divisions.

To understand how large a victory this is, consider what defeat would have meant. In light of the president's decision to gamble all of his standing to get this bill passed, its failure would have crippled his presidency. The Democratic Congress would have become a laughing stock, incapable of winning on an issue that has been central to its identity since the days of Harry Truman.

This is why Republicans decided to put everything they had into an effort to defeat the measure. They said its passage would hurt the Democrats in November's elections. They knew that its failure would have haunted Democrats for decades.

Without this concrete achievement, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kept warning her troops, Democrats would have been stuck with their votes for reform bills and nothing to show for them. The real and imagined flaws of their proposed system would have been hung around their necks, yet they would have had no way of demonstrating its advantages.

With success comes the chance to defend what is, in many of its particulars, the sort of plan a majority of Americans said they wanted. Yes, it is imperfect and it won't come cheap. But it fills a gaping hole in the American social insurance system.

It affords protections that Americans had long hoped for against insurance-company practices that could deny them coverage. It also grants the security of knowing that sickness would not carry the threat of bankruptcy. It will be better still if the Senate enacts the improvements the House has made.

This is also a moment of history, a culmination of the legacies of Truman and Franklin Roosevelt...



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