Last summer, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) predicted that if Republicans were “able to stop” passage of a comprehensive health care reform bill, the defeat would be President Obama’s “Waterloo” (a reference to the French Emperor Napoleon’s final battle). In the months that followed, health care industry lobbyists and their GOP counterparts engaged in a shameful campaign of scare-tactics, disinformation and outright lies against reform.
This cynical crusade proved brutally effective, turning public opinion against the bill and helping to sweep Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) into office. Consequently, Democratic leaders are considering scrapping the legislation and starting from scratch. Some even advocate walking away from the issue entirely. That would be a huge mistake. If Congressional Democrats abandon health care now, DeMint’s statement may very well come true.
On the contrary, by coming together and successfully salvaging some semblance of reform, this battle may prove to be President Obama’s Dunkirk rather than his Waterloo. For those who slept through history class, the “miracle of Dunkirk” occurred in 1940, prior to U.S. involvement in World War Two. Following a disastrous offensive against Nazi Germany in France, over 300,000 retreating British troops were rescued from the beaches around Dunkirk and ferried back across the English Channel to fight another day.
Ever since, the term “Dunkirk spirit” has been synonymous with Britain’s stoic resolve and tendency to band together when faced with tremendous adversity. Democrats can learn much from this quintessential “disaster turned to triumph.” If they answer the call of history and rally to pass comprehensive health care reform, it would provide a psychological boost to Democratic morale and build momentum heading into the 2010 midterm elections.
According to Politico.com, the most likely scenario for passage involves the House approving the Senate’s bill word-for-word, while House leaders make limited changes to appease certain, key constituencies. These revisions would then be passed by the Senate using a parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation, generally reserved for budget measures, that requires only 51 votes.
Opponents of reform will inevitably argue that invoking reconciliation amounts to subverting the people’s will. However, that opinion fails to acknowledge the underhanded tactics employed by the GOP to influence public opinion. It also ignores the precedent set by the Bush Administration when they used reconciliation to push through their tax cuts for the wealthiest one-percent of Americans in 2001 and 2003.
As Democratic strategist David Plouffe noted in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post yesterday, “Americans’ health and our nation’s long-term fiscal health depend on” passing, “a meaningful health care reform package without delay.” The status quo, in regard health care and many other issues, is unsustainable. Congressional Democrats must approve the reform bill and let the American People judge it on its own merits instead of Republican propaganda.
The British experience at Dunkirk demonstrates how an inspiring moral victory, snatched from the jaws of demoralizing defeat, can quickly transform into an enduring, rallying cry. Although, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill cautioned after that epic rescue, “wars are not won by evacuations.” President Obama and his fellow Democrats must win major, decisive, legislative victories in the coming months and years. Passing a comprehensive health care reform bill by any means necessary is the first step towards achieving those goals.