Monday, March 22, 2010


It's hard to avoid the TV on a Sunday in late March. So you keep switching stations, watching the fierce competition, the tests of endurance, the fouls and trash-talking, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.

I'm talking, of course, about the health care debate in Congress on C-SPAN.

I don't usually watch C-SPAN, but yesterday I kept flipping over to it because I wanted to see what would happen with the health care vote. Now I know why I don't make a habit of watching C-SPAN. It is torturous. It's like watching cricket-- a sporting event where you don't understand the rules and have no idea if what just happened was a good thing or not.

There were countless motions and declarations and procedures and votes and speeches and I had no idea what was going on.

Person With Gavel (PWG): The speaker recognizes the right honorable wicket from Texas to speak before a procedural vote to authorize swithmuckles in the preceding concession for pre-voting on the proclamation to recognize the national volleyball team. You have two minutes.

Man at Microphone (MaM): I request two minutes and 19 seconds.

PWG: You have two minutes.

MaM: Why won't the speaker allow 2 minutes and 19 seconds? The speaker allowed 2 minutes and 19 seconds for the gentle lady folk from Elbownia.

PWG: You have two minutes.

And so on. There is language like, "motion to suspend rules and agree" (which makes you wonder if the rule is to disagree) and "motion to recommit with instructions."

They did about a hundred votes, each lasting five minutes, that had nothing to do with the health care bill. Some examples (As Dave Barry would say, I swear I'm not making these up):

  • Recognizing the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima (421 ayes, 0 nays)
  • Commending the members of Agri-business Development teams... (418-3)
  • To revise the boundaries of the Gettysburg National Military Park to include the Gettysburg Train Station, and for other purposes (372-31)
  • On "approving the journal" (229-189)


So, anyway, nothing less than the passage of universal health care in this country could get me to endure such nonsense. Actually, not even that momentous event could keep me there, as eventually I got tired of trying to make sense of it all and went to bed. I knew that NPR would give me a summary of important stuff in the morning.

And I have to say, I'm relieved, hopeful, and excited that Congress did the right thing. It's not the plan that many of us hoped for, but it's a step in the right direction. As James Fallows explains much better than I could:
For now, the significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)... TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period.
Read the rest here. What he says.

Conservatives are, of course, predicting the end of the world, or at least the end of our country. What I don't understand is why so many people think the government is not capable of providing health insurance. First of all, they already do it with Medicare, Medicaid, and in the military; secondly, every other civilized country in the world does it, and they haven't dissolved into a puddle of dust; and thirdly, every great social change in this country, from emancipation to women's suffrage to Social Security to desegregation to the Civil Rights Act to Medicare, has been opposed by conservatives, and went on to become the status quo. Health care for all Americans has been way overdue.

If you want to know what the bill actually does, here's a convenient list of the benefits and when they will take effect:

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