In passing the Senate version of the health care bill, the Democratic Party has committed political suicide. Don’t blame them, though; it wasn’t their fault. In fact, either passing or rejecting the bill would have been suicide. When President Obama made health care reform number one on his agenda, he set his party on a course between Scylla and Charybdis. The Senate then had two options: ram the bill through despite the lack of public support, or side with their constituents and vote the bill down. Yet either option would end in failure. It was a choice between losing a few Congressman or the entire party. Like Odysseus, Democrats opted for Scylla and indeed will likely lose Congressmen in the next round of elections. But in so doing, perhaps they will be able to keep the party as a whole afloat.
Abandoning the Senate bill could have been Charybdis, a whirlpool that would have destroyed the Democratic Party. With not much to show after nearly a year in office, Obama demanded legislation on health care reform. Failure to pass the bill would have resulted in a major blow to any confidence in the Democratic Party to get anything done. Pundits on the right would use this as firepower against Democrats as the party of “broken promises” and “do nothings.” Yet it would be those on the left who would be outraged, possibly abandoning the Democratic Party. This two-pronged attack might have been too much for the Party.
Scylla proved to be the enticing choice for Democrats. And indeed, a number of senators have fallen already. Senator Ben Nelson has lost support after a scandalous compromise with Senator Reid, essentially buying out his vote. In doing so, he voted against 67% of his constituents who opposed the Senate bill. 61% said they are less likely to vote for him when his seat comes up for reelection in 2012. Senator Dodd of Connecticut and Senator Dorgan of North have already chosen to not seek reelection. Undoubtedly, the Republicans will gain seats in both chambers, and current polls are an indication of that.
The ramifications go even further. Currently, the Attorney General from Texas is preparing to submit a multistate lawsuit against the health care reform, stating that the mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Even if that goes under there is talk of nullification, in which a state rules to not accept a federal law. Arizona has already passed in both the Senate and House state legislatures, to put on the 2010 ballot a referendum which would override any law that requires individuals to participate in a particular health care system, prohibit fines for not purchasing health insurance, and overrule anything that prohibits the sale of private health insurance in Arizona.
Perhaps the biggest impact, however, is that this act shows the disrespect that Congress has for the opinions of their constituents. Only 42% of the American people supported the Senate bill the week it passed, while 54% opposed it. The week before only 36% supported the bill. A Congressman’s responsibility is to represent his or her constituents. Passing this bill more than shirked, but defied that responsibility.
When Congress votes contrary to the voice of the people it is because the voice of the people is not loud enough. Yes, there has been much screaming over the past six months, particularly from the right. We all recall the near-violent town hall meetings. But Congress is not listening. While their responsibility is to listen, it is our responsibility to make ourselves heard, in ways that they will listen. We the people need to come up with better solutions on how to hold our Congressmen accountable.