Remember, Barack, You Promised Teddy!

When asked why he is fighting so hard for health care reform, President Barack Obama replies, “I promised Teddy.” He must never forget that promise.kennedy

With all the monuments that will inevitably rise to honor Ted Kennedy’s life of service to his country, I am sure the one he would choose above all others is a health care reform bill. And such a bill – with the late senator’s name on it – is ready to go.

The Senate Health Committee, which Kennedy chaired, passed a $600 billion health care reform bill more than a month ago. I haven’t read the bill but I understand that it calls for a system of state-level “exchanges,” where people would shop for insurance plans. One option would be a nonprofit government program, to be available to people without employer-provided coverage. The bill would require individuals to buy health insurance and include government assistance to those who can’t afford the premiums. Also, the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor would be greatly expanded.

I can’t see why the President is hesitating. He should come right out and demand that the Senate adopt the Kennedy bill, and that immediate steps are taken to reconcile it with legislation passed by the House. I doubt that many politicians, especially Democrats, would oppose a bill honoring the “Lion of the Senate” so soon after his death.

Sure, Republicans will rage and lie, and lunatics across the land will brandish guns and threaten an uprising against “dictatorship.” But when the tumult and the shouting dies, when the reforms are implemented and another step is taken toward the society that Ted Kennedy dreamed of, the vast majority will be grateful. Even those who protested loudest will soon forget that there ever was a time when Americans were denied the health care they and their children need – and to which they are entitled. It will just be another inalienable right.

I am no expert on the workings of the United States Senate. But this I know. The process in which health care reform legislation is trapped is a farce. Why would anyone give a tinker’s dam about other bills that various committees are crafting? Yet, the President seems to be focusing on the Finance Committee, where Chairman Max Baucus is playing footsie with Republicans and the health care industry.

The for-profit health care industry has contributed millions of dollars to the Senate campaigns of Baucus and other Democrats whom the media disingenuously describe as “moderates.” These senators are bought and paid for, and their opinions should be ignored. As far as I can see, the only concern the Finance Committee should have is how to pay for the Health Committee’s bill. And they should figure that out pronto. Even if new taxes must be imposed, and if existing spending programs must be cut, so be it. It is time to ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. We promised Teddy.