Congressional Democrats, I know that last week’s Massachusetts Senate election has you feeling heartbroken, scared and uncertain. My advice: Snap out of it now!
I know that Republicans are crowing about Scott Brown winning the Senate seat formerly held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. I know that pundits are claiming that Brown’s win was really a rebuke of President Obama, a repudiation of Democrats in general, and a rejection of your proposed health care reform in particular. But don’t buy it.
The loss in Massachusetts was certainly not a rebuke of President Obama. After all, opinion polls show that 50 percent of Americans approve of the job he has done his first year, while only 45 percent disagree. Furthermore, while Americans are clearly unhappy with your work in Congress, polls still show that more Americans trust you more than Congressional Republicans to solve the nation’s problems.
Americans aren’t even rejecting the health care plan you were just weeks away from passing. Yes, opinion polls on average are showing that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the plan while only 40 percent approve. If you look deeper inside those polls though, you will find that Americans approve, by wide margins, more progressive provisions — such as a public health insurance option to compete against private insurance plans or even allowing younger people to buy into Medicare — that were not included in the final Senate bill. If anything, Americans are wary of your proposed reforms instead of being opposed to them.
In the end the Massachusetts election was a textbook example of a smart, good-looking, charismatic candidate beating an aloof one. It’s not like this is the first or the last time that will ever happen in American politics.
Yes, the election came at an inopportune time for you. You were on the verge of passing an historic health insurance reform package that would have provided health insurance to 31 million Americans, cracked down on unethical insurance company practices, and even reduced the national debt by $130 billion over the next 10 years. Now, without your super-majority in the U.S. Senate, passing any reform is going to take a lot more work.
So get to it.
I know last week’s turn of events is both disappointing and surprising. But life is full of disappointments and surprises. Remember, you set out to reform the health insurance industry in the first place to help all those people who face disappointment every day.
You are doing this for the little boy who cannot play catch outside with his dad because his parents cannot afford his expensive asthma treatments.
You are doing this for the little girl whose life will be cut short because her parents cannot afford to treat her diabetes.
You are doing this for the mom who is recovering from breast cancer, but cannot afford her cancer screenings.
You are doing this for the dad who will die too young just because he can no longer afford his blood pressure medicine after he lost his job.
Nobody said passing comprehensive health insurance reform would be easy. But today and tomorrow people all around this country are waiting for you to do the job we elected you to do. So stop feeling sorry for yourselves. You’ve got work to do.
MICKEY HEPNER is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.