For the last while, I like many others have been arguing that the health insurance reform just passed by the House today would lower the federal deficit. I know that this is important to a lot of Democrats, including ones whom I respect. The horrible truth is: it's not that important to me. Even if what we stand to achieve (once the reconciliation bill is passed) did cost money from the federal deficit, it would be worth it.
It would be worth it just like Social Security and Medicare are worth it, even if they do cost money, because the alternative is for our elderly to eat dog food, as was once the case.
I want to review the ways in which this reform is worth it even if, as Republicans charge, it does raise the federal deficit.
First, this bill is the start of our fighting back against fear. It's the beginning, for many workers, of saying those most satisfying words to one's employer: "take this job and shove it."
Health care is now, more or less, a right rather than a privilege. The system and the coverage are far from perfect, but the essential principles are set. (Well, one principle is missing: we weren't able to break the back of private domination of the health insurance system, but we've gotten ourselves in a good position. Now the insurers will be the focus of reform if -- as is probably inevitable -- they are not on good behavior.) The idea is that people should not go bankrupt because of their health care costs, that people should not be bound to a job they hate or an employer they can't stand because they don't know how else they will get health care.
We held a party at our house today for one of our daughter's birthdays. Many of the relatives there don't really follow politics. They asked what was in the bill. Then they asked follow-up questions: "when does this or that provision take effect?" Those are the questions that people will be asking for, more and more, in the weeks to come.
It's worth spending public money to keep people from experiencing this tragedy and disruption, just like it's worth spending public money to keep our elderly from having to eat dog food, and it's worth spending public money to give people the peace of mind that if they lose their job they and their family will still be able to obtain medical care.
Look, Republicans, you spend a trillion dollars on a tax break for the rich, another trillion on a war or two (much of the money being siphoned off to contractors who contribute to your campaigns), and a trillion more over time to pass a prescription drug bill that has served primarily to enrich the pharmaceutical companies. You don't have the moral standing to tell us that what I have outlined above is not worth it.
Here's another thing: if we want this not to add to the federal debt, we'll now be able to do one other thing more easily. We'll be able to raise federal taxes. Why? Because with better medical care (and, eventually, with more affordable medical care), people will have more money in their pockets. Furthermore, people will be able to give up some of their money because they won't have to save as much for disasters.
People know, intuitively if not by studying the statistics, that medical disasters are a major cause (in many years, I believe, the leading cause) of personal bankruptcies. If you take away the threat that you have to have saved enough money not only to deal with a normal disaster, but also enough to deal with huge medical emergencies as well, people are going to be calmer and more confident about their personal finances. That means that they can pay for more social programs that serve the public good. That means that they can take some entrepreneurial risks, that they can leave that stultifying job and go to school or start a business.
Many of us have been bound to our life paths by fear of loss of health care. That era is ending. And, frankly, ending that era is worth a bit -- a paltry bit, compared to what Republicans have frittered away -- of the federal budget, if that should happen.
We will see a nation that is less socially stratified because people can take entrepreneurial risks that they can't otherwise afford. We will see a nation where people can get away from bad employers, bad marriages, etc. without walking a tightrope. We will see a nation with a more confident citizenry, that will only demand more justice over time.
No wonder Republicans have hated the idea of health care reform.
No wonder they have fought it so hard.
No wonder, in the final analysis, that they have lost.