The debate over President Barack Obama’s revolutionary health care bill has raged in recent months. And the future of the bill descended deeper into uncertainty this week when Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts won the election to fill the late Edward Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat. Brown’s election makes him the 41st Republican senator — and gives the GOP the filibuster power they need to indefinitely stall the important health care bill. But the bill is about more than party politics. Republicans must forego this political obstructionism and work with Democrats in order to ensure that comprehensive health care reform is passed.
On Tuesday, Brown defeated Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the state’s vacant Senate seat. This reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to 59, keeping them one seat short of the votes that they need to prevent Republicans from employing the filibuster — a procedure that allows senators to stall a bill indefinitely in the absence of 60 votes to the contrary.
This election has shaken up reliably left Massachusetts with major policy implications on the national level. Nowhere is the effect more noticeable than in the health care debate. Ted Kennedy, who occupied the Massachusetts seat for the last 47 years prior to his death in August of 2009, referred to health care reform as “the cause of my life.” This sentiment symbolizes the significance of the legislation Brown’s election now threatens to kill.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 46.3 million Americans were without health insurance in 2008 — a number this nation shouldn’t tolerate. Considering the intent of recent health care legislation — making health care affordable to all Americans — the Republican Party should be willing to work with the Democrats to deliver a bill that achieves this goal. Health care costs are out of control, and reform is important to all Americans. It’s appalling that even though the United States has the advanced medical technology and the ability to treat so many ailments, health care remains out of reach for millions of its citizens.
As the minority party in both houses of Congress, Republicans have consciously evaded the role of a constructive partner in the legislative process by placing politics above the welfare of citizens. U.S. Senator Jim Demint (R–S.C.) infamously said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” a clear signal that Republicans may care more about thwarting Obama than working to improve the quality of life for their constituents. Republicans have consistently used every tool available to prevent the bill from being taken to a final majority vote, where they are outnumbered.
Health insurance statistics make it clear that the status quo isn’t working. Congressional drama won’t cure the nation’s ill, but efforts at reform will. Republican senators must stop placing their own agenda above the well being of their constituents and become a contributor — not a roadblock — to the legislative process. That means putting aside the filibuster now and working with their Democratic counterparts in order to make health care reform a reality for all Americans.