So I got in line with my neighbors to shake Senator Daschle's hand and see if he'd have time for a question. I thought maybe Daschle's Spidey-sense would detect my Republican registration (yup, I hadn't converted yet in 2003) and he would give me a quick hi-how-are-ya and move on.
Instead, after I opened with an invite for Daschle to come back and judge the State Debate Tournament (hey! offer remains open!) Daschle spent a good five minutes, maybe more responding to my questions about health care. On that hot summer evening, he said:
- A single-payer system was politically unsellable.
- The closest doable compromise system was a system of regional pools.
- The larger the risk pool the better; a nationwide risk pool would be best.
When I asked if we would be going too far if we declared health care a fundamental human right, he said no, with the qualification that we need to define exactly what health care we consider necessary in order to avoid overutilization of the system.
That was five years ago. Senator Daschle is about to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in a Democratic administration with a Democratic Congress. I would suggest that the political sellability of health care reform has changed. To wit:
- Senator Edward Kennedy has announced plans to introduce universal health care legislation in 2009 and has created three working groups headed by Senators Harkin, Mikulski, and Clinton to work on key issues.
- As Ezra Klein notes (hat tip to Professor Blanchard!), you don't pick a former Senate Majority Leader to run a bureaucracy. You pick him to help get a big reform plan through the Senate.
- GM spends more on health care than on steel. If GM and the other automakers can't get a straight bailout (and they shouldn't), but a federal plan to relieve them of their health care expenses could save them from bankruptcy and restore their cost-competitiveness with foreign automakers... none of whom are burdened with health care costs. Universal health care could be just the stimulus package every big business needs to free up capital and save jobs.
My conservative friends are probably thinking, "Oh my goodness—Obama mght actually try to pass universal health care." This diehard Dennis Kucinich fan is saying the exact same thing... but with a tingly sense of wonder and a readiness to fight for it.
Tom, Ted, Barack—you have a moment in history, an opportunity to rally the country behind a great moral and practical reform that will save money and lives. Steam train a-comin'—Dennis, dust off HR 676! Single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage: let's make it happen!