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Cows on the Track

by AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee  |  March 24, 2010

This entry by AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee is cross-posted from Huffington Post and Firedoglake.

Michael Steele, the hapless chairman of the Republican National Committee, was asked a while back by Fox News how he would stop health care reform. "I will be the cow on the track," he answered. Steele believed that President Obama's historic effort to end the ongoing abuses of the insurance industry could be stopped even after it had passed both the House and the Senate. As a video posted on the DailyKos website makes clear, cows can't stop trains. Yet this hasn't stopped Republican officials all across the country from stepping up to be cows on the track now that health care reform has been signed into law.

Republicans are playing political games as the U.S. Senate considers legislation that would make important fixes in the historic health care reform legislation President Obama signed this week. The reconciliation bill would make health coverage more affordable for seniors and the middle class, and dramatically lessen the burden of an excise tax on working families. Now, Republicans are trying to block passage of those important improvements. They have no shame.

They are introducing amendments that serve no purpose except to derail the fix. Let's be clear. The Senate should reject every amendment that is introduced to this important corrective legislation. Changes in the proposed law, except those mandated under the rules of the Senate, serve no purpose except to delay the implementation of health care overhaul. Amendments to the reconciliation bill are simply "poison pills," designed to sabotage health care reform. They are tricks concocted by Republicans. They are cows on the track.

There will be more than enough time in the years ahead to address changes and make improvements in the health care law. This week is not the time to do it. My friend Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, was right when he called on senators to vote no on amendments, even on issues that we would otherwise strongly support. "Republicans are going to use a "kitchen sink" amendment strategy, throwing everything they can at the bill to try to sink reform," Rich notes. "Working families won't be fooled by dirty tricks from the opponents of health reform out to do the bidding of the insurance companies. And U.S. senators should not be fooled either."

When we started our work on health care reform three years ago, we set our sights high. But we knew that the final legislation would not include everything we wanted. But this is not new. Major social justice reforms are never achieved in one fell swoop. When the 1957 Civil Rights Act was signed into law, it fell short of what was needed to bring about equal rights. It failed to include key protections like voting rights and access to public places. But it was a start. And it laid the groundwork for future laws that made more progress. Originally, both Social Security and Medicare excluded public sector workers. But over time that has been rectified. The same will be true for health care reform. These bills achieve enormous good and they lay a strong foundation for us to build on.

I was pleased to hear that some supporters of changes in health care reform have decided not to push amendments to the reconciliation bill.

Senator Michael Bennet, one of the Senate's great supporters of the public option, writes that "the bill before the Senate this week is far too important to use as a political football. This bill would close the senior prescription drug coverage loophole that most people know as the 'donut hole.' It would remove the special political deals, like the 'cornhusker kickback.' It would further reduce the deficit up to $1.2 trillion over the next two decades and cover even more Americans, bringing the total to 32 million Americans."

Bennet correctly notes: "This will not happen if the political games continue. That is why public option supporters, including many organizations that have been on the frontline of the fight with me, are urging a vote on the reconciliation bill, without any amendments."

What we have now is a law that does enormous good for millions of American families by making health care a right for the first time in our history. And it turns out Americans like that idea.

Senate Republicans aren't the only cows moving onto the track. Just yesterday, Republican attorneys general in more than a dozen states announced that they would challenge the constitutionality of the new law's requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a little extra on their federal income taxes. These Republican officials are a disgrace. Every citizen of their respective states is required to buy car insurance before they can drive the car out of the lot. Is that unconstitutional? Of course not. I thought the GOP opposed frivolous lawsuits, but apparently they don't when they are trying to be cows on the track. What they are doing is wasting taxpayer money to score political points with the extreme and irrational voices that now dominate the Republican Party.

Some prominent Republicans understand that those in their party who have taken extreme positions in opposition to health care reform have done a disservice to our country. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum describes it this way: "It's hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. We followed the most radical voices in the party, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat." When will others in his party recognize that Americans want Republicans and Democrats to work together with President Obama to lead this country forward? When will they stop acting like cows on the track?

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