I am reminded this week of the movie War Games. That in itself is not a bad thing. The movie is a favorite of mine. In the film, Matthew Broderick’s character hacks into what he thinks is a soon to be released commercial computer game, and, in playing it, he sets off a military simulation program that comes close to causing a real world nuclear war. In the climactic scene, Broderick’s character yells, “learn, damnit!” at a computer that can not hear him, as he tries to teach it the futility of “global thermonuclear war”.
Healthcare is no game, but the Republicans have not learned yet that the only way to reform it is not to play. They remain focused on how to enact the largest transfer of wealth possible from healthcare programs to the very wealthy, with no thought of the real life consequences for the health and even the very lives of the Americans they supposedly serve. Because they have not made this intellectual leap, any celebration of the demise of the Senate healthcare bill is premature. Continuing the metaphor of War Games, no one has yet taught the Republicans tic tac toe. In this case, that would mean showing them and the American people what a healthcare plan would look like if the goal truly was to provide a better and more affordable system for everyone.
To be sure, something has been gained. What was defeated was Mitch McConnell’s cynical effort to ram a reform bill down America’s throat without hearings, debate, or even allowing his supposed Republican allies the time to read and try to understand the actual bill. It was this process, not the actual bill, that John McCain voted against. Where Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins actually voted against what the bill would do, McCain was more offended by how this result was arrived at. He deserves some credit for that, but it does not make him worthy of the adulation he has received in the press this past week. McCain’s vote also means that the Republicans can no longer pass healthcare “reform” with a simple majority in the Senate. By voting to open the bill to debate and only then insuring its defeat, McCain made sure that no healthcare bill can be passed using the budget reconciliation process this year; instead, Democratic votes will now be needed to avoid a filibuster and pass anything. That in itself means that the Republicans must actually learn to govern. They must hold hearings, have a floor debate, and find at least six Democrats to support any bill they come up with.
The problem is, any bill that passes the Senate must still be reconciled with the version that actually passed the House. That gives the Republicans the chance to restore much of the harm they still seek to do. The job now, in the Senate, is to bring enough Democrats on board to get the bill to conference committee. Once any Democrats sign on to this, it will be hard for them to back out of passing the final version. The real hero to this point then is not John McCain but Chuck Schumer. He is the one who has kept the Democrats united as the opposition Party, making sure that no one strays across the aisle to abet the Republicans.
How then can we end the threat of “Repeal and Replace”? As activists, we must push the Democrats to do what they have not been interested in doing up to now. They must develop a healthcare plan of their own to hold up against the Republican efforts. They must demonstrate with their plan that they hear the concerns of the American people, that simply preserving the Affordable Care Act is not enough. Any new Democratic plan must address the problem of skyrocketing deductibles and copays. It must have a mechanism to assure that coverage is available in all markets, that insurers can not simply bow out. It must mandate negotiated drug prices to insure that premiums can actually go down.
Universal healthcare would seem to be the obvious solution. But keep in mind, the ideal plan is one that Chuck Schumer can secure 48 Democratic votes for. Even so, we can not expect any Republicans to support such a measure, so it has no chance now of becoming law. Even a bill that passed the Senate would be shot down in the more rabid House. Passing the bill is not the point now. The point now is to extend the debate into the 2018 campaign season. We need to present the American people with a clear choice on healthcare as they choose the next Congress, and we need to make sure that what the Republicans just tried to do to them is still fresh in their minds as they go to the polls. More, we need to get the Democrats in Congress to give unambiguous proof that, on this vital issue, the two parties are not the same. Donald Trump is the master of distraction. His outrageous antics can easily get the American people to forget the healthcare issue in next year’s elections. We must push the Democrats to make sure that does not happen.
War Games came out in 1983. There were no songs on the soundtrack album, just the orchestral score. Perhaps that is why this one, from 1980, was not used: