Marylanders Leading Fight for Health Care

Posted on February 25, 2010


Health care opponents at Blair House.

Health care opponents at Blair House.

Maryland is well-represented in President Barack Obama’s health-care showdown today, live and televised from Blair House.

As President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walked across the street to the White House for the lunch break, the president paused for an impromptu one-on-one with Rep. Steny Hoyer, the congressman from Southern Maryland, who also happens to be majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings

At about the same time, Rep. Elijah Cummings was talking with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.  Rep. Cummings, congressman from Baltimore and Baltimore County, is a leading congressional advocate for health care reform.

Perhaps the most eloquent defender of health insurance for all this morning was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native who represents California. Why are Republicans on a campaign to demonize this brilliant woman? The best and brightest, particularly when they are working for the common good, are hated by the privileged elite. It is the way of the world. You could look it up.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Republicans this morning repeated what they have been saying for weeks: “The American people don’t want Congress to pass health reform.” It’s a lie, but people come to believe lies if they are repeated over and over.  A Kaiser Foundation poll this month reports that 58 percent of all Americans hope Congress will pass a health care bill this year. And 38 percent are opposed.

America is bitterly divided along partisan lines. Democrats represent 58 percent who want health care. Republicans represent 38 percent who don’t want health care.

The Democratic position can be summed up as follows: Health insurance at a reasonable price should be available to all. And yes, America can afford to do this, by imposing a 2.9 percent tax on the unearned income of wealthy people, income which is now tax-free. Working people are taxed on their wage, but rich people are not taxed on their much higher incomes from interest and dividends on their investments.

The Republican position can be summed up as follows: They will not support the Democratic health care proposal. Period. America can not afford it. Period. Most Republican constituents already have health insurance, and they are happy with it. They are afraid of change.

When asked for their own proposals, Republicans keep saying, Start over, Start over. The Republicans have two suggestions for health reform:  Eliminate malpractice liability of doctors, and allow insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines. That’s it. You can see who they represent.

America has been bitterly divided before.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights laws were fiercely resisted. But Civil Rights advocates were unyielding in their nonviolent commitment to equality under the law. Many, many Americans opposed equal rights for African-Americans. Many other whites were somewhat sympathetic, but they were afraid of change. They asked: “Why now? Why are black people in such a hurry?”

Political courage was in vogue in the 1960s. John F. Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” was still current. Many members of the House and the Senate, including representatives from districts where inequality and discrimination were entrenched in local custom, ignored their own re-election and voted for Civil Rights. They must have been afraid of change. But they voted for change.

America has come to a “We shall overcome” moment on health care. It’s also a “We are not afraid” moment. 58 percent. 38 percent. Is this a  democracy, or what?

— Bernie Hayden