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Congressional grown-ups stepping up to confront the U.S. healthcare debacle

First, we have to believe.


Believe — despite much evidence to the contrary — that America can rise from its current national quagmire, generate bipartisan political cooperation, break the gridlock and “get something done” about pressing national problems like healthcare.


In other words, confront “the illness of despair.”


Cockeyed optimism? Quixotic?


Maybe, but there are signs, maybe omens.


Fresh analysis fromThe New York Times may help. Excerpts from its new “Consensus Is Health Law Can Be Fixed. Now the Hard Part”:


“The question for the 20 million Americans who buy insurance — and for millions of others who remain uninsured — is what can realistically be done to address their main concerns: high prices and lack of choices in may parts of the country…


“The politics are exceedingly tricky in a divided and dysfunctional Washington, but economists, insurers, doctors and health policy experts across the political spectrum agree that immediately addressing three or four basic shortcomings in the existing system would go a long way toward making the law more effective and financially stable.”


Three priorities: Stabilize the insurance markets. Reduce drug prices. Expand access for the poor.


Too, there are now influential voices in Congress on both sides of the aisle acknowledging that, at long last, there is a strong case morally (most Americans need health insurance) and politically (a Congressional election already hovers) for a bipartisan solution — and for other major issues as well. In recent days, Republican Senators Collins and Flake (see his new book “Conscience of a Conservative”) and Democrats Schumer and Durbin —  have been outspoken in urging such new cooperation.


So it may well be the time to start the admittedly arduous work on a bipartisan “Collins-Welch”   U.S. Healthcare Act of 20118″. That’s not the pure fantasy it might have been only a few weeks ago. But why Collins and Welch? Because Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins and Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch, both already immersed in the healthcare legislation, are well respected and no doubt have many excellent starter ideas.


The obstacles, of course, are formidable.

Foremost is the president. Single-handedly, he is already lighting the fuses for an Affordable Care Act “implosion” by implying that his administration may cease paying the ACA insurance premium subsidies (not incidentally, harming many middle class Americans, quite a few of whom voted for him).


In addition, the extremes in both parties are still vibrant in promoting their positions -Tea Party repeal advocates on the right, single-payer promoters on the left.


There is also the phoenix-like specter of another attempt to resurrect the just-failed GOP’s Better Health Care Act with Senators Graham and Cassidy the spiritualists.

Still, it’s encouraging to reflect on statements by Collins and Welch in the past few days.
Collins: “Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and we must work together to put together a bipartisan bill that fixes the flaws in the ACA and works for all Americans.” Welch: “It’s about inclusionary politics. It’s about a government that has policies that are going to work for everyone.”

Yes, the healthcare challenge, if it is met this year or next, could provide a spark of momentum for addressing other issues impeding national progress.


Finally, there is this from “the best public speaker in America” of his time (OK, that was Richard Nixon’s assessment — but still), Guy Vander Jagt, Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966 to 1993. Congressman Vander Jagt reportedly gave us one of the most memorable articulations of the responsibility of an elected official in a republic.


Paraphrasing his pledge to his Michigan constituents:


I am honored to represent you in the United State Congress and I will faithfully reflect your views on all issues that come before us. However, please understand: I will also listen, carefully and at length, to contrasting views on such issues and if persuaded otherwise in the general public interest, I will vote accordingly. I will then report to you the reasons for such change of view and vote and willingly submit to your judgment as to whether I should continue to be your representative in the House of Representatives.



I haven’t found a citation for that courageous address. But even if apocryphal, is it not worthy of inscription in the office of every member of Congress as we as a nation try to make something good happen?