Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson: The health-care bill is a glorious mess

Mar 23, 2010

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Read today's column The health-care bill: A glorious mess in which Gene writes: "Even when the "fixes" that have to be approved by the Senate are made, the health-care bill will still be something of a mess. But it's a glorious mess, because it enshrines the principle that all Americans have the right to health care -- an extraordinary achievement that will make this a better nation."

Hi, everyone. I believe our nation is -- ahem -- healthier today, following President Obama's signing of the comprehensive health care reform legislation. Sunday was an incredible day at the Capitol, with a sense that real history was being made. It's not always like that on the Hill, believe me. My bottom line has always been that it is barbaric for a nation as rich and powerful as ours to refuse to guarantee its citizens the right to health care. Period. I gather that not everyone agrees, but I hope and believe that this principle has been enshrined -- and, once enshrined, will not be forsaken. Let's begin.

I hear a lot of people that were against the health care bill say that it represents a "loss of freedom" but I'm having a hard time understanding what freedoms are being lost? Are they afraid they're not going to have the freedom to choose their own doctor or what? Or is it that people will now be required to have minimal health insurance? I don't see that as a loss of freedom either...b/c we (the taxpayers) end up paying for uninsured anyway when they end up in the ER. So I just don't know what freedom we're losing

I don't know, either. When we have health care for all, in fact, all of us will have more freedom. For example, I know someone who would leave her job and start a business -- a good thing, right, because it will create jobs -- but can't because of a preexisting condition. Our current system makes no sense.

Thanks for thie glorious article. My wife worked with Hillary Clinton in the 1990's on health care reform. She joins me is celebrating the moment. Our country, in spite of the anger and attitudes of some, has become more humane in this bold act. Yes we can President Obama. My question: Is it time for a great national debate on racism in its many forms? Cornville, AZ

Thank you. I confess that I don't think we're ever going to have the "great national debate" on race and racism that many (incuding me) have wanted. But don't despair. I think that the way we have our discussion about race is episodically -- something happens, we talk about race for a few days or a few weeks, and then we don't talk about it until the next trigger event happens. This seems to be the pattern, and in our own halting way, we make progress. If we were all going to sit down and have a long, meaningful talk, we'd have done so by now.

Mr. Robinson- The most irritating part of this debate has been the notion of health care as a right. Do we have other rights that depend on the scholarship and hard work of others? I've always viewed a right as an intrinsic value that exists naturally. At the very least I wish we could have had a working definition of a right so we would have an idea of the path down which we're headed- child care, internet, etc. Do you foresee journalists or engineers (myself) being forced to provide their trade at the behest of our federal government?

Governments can bestow rights, and this is a right that I believe our government should recognize for all Americans. The proposition that "all men are created equal" doesn't mean anything if we have unequal access to basic, necessary health care. Does everyone have a right to a nose job or liposuction? Of course not. But to regular doctor visits, yes.

Mr. Robinson, Why does the president use so many pens to sign a bill into law. I saw Speaker Pelosi also do the same. What is the significance of this? Thanks.

Presidents always use multiple pens in signing ceremonies so that there are more souvenirs. How many did the president use today, 15 or 20? Now that many people will be able to say they have the pen that was used to sign comprehensive health care into law.

The Constitution does not mention a "right to health care", any more than it mentions a right to abortion, a right to a quality education, etc. If Congress wants to create a so-called right to health care, they should proceed by initiating the constitutional amendment process---two thirds of Congress plus three-fourths of the states. Then we can have a legitimate debate on providing health care.

Um, I think we just had a pretty thorough debate.

Mr. Robinson: Do you think that if the Republicans come into power during the two upcoming election cycles they will really do away with the health care bill? Or will they just do away with the provisions that really benefit folks and keep the corporate-benefit "good stuff", i.e., the punitive mandate to buy private health insurance.

Let's assume -- just for the sake of argument, because I have my doubts -- but let's assume that the Republicans take the House this fall. Someone will probably introduce a bill saying "repeal the health care law." But someone else will say, hold it, let's keep the part about keeping young adults on their parents' insurance through age 26. Somebody else will say, gee, I'm going to get killed in my district unless we keep those insurance subsidies for small businesses. There is no way, in my view, that Republicans will repeal all or most -- or any, probably -- of the law if they take power. They might try to alter the legislation, but I don't think they can take it back.

Hi Gene, Thanks for the good work as always. I just read that the Virginia Attorney General is planning on filing a lawsuit claiming that the Health Care Reform bill is unconstitutional. I also heard a story on NPR of a woman from rural Virginia with 6 kids driving to Washington to personally lobby her congressman to vote AGAINST the bill. A simple question for you - what is the opposition to health care reform really about? All I've heard from the GOP is "Government take over of health care", but they have to know that isn't actually true - exactly who do they represent and why? I haven't actually heard any reasonable explanation of this.

Thirteen Republican attorneys general, including Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, are filing suit (probably as we speak) to  challenge the law as unconstitutional. Their expected target is the mandate that compels everyone to buy health insurance. They will argue that Congress has no power to do this. It's an issue that might make it all the way to the Supreme Court -- but that might not make it very far at all. For one thing, the courts have generally allowed Congress to interpret the Commerce Clause of the Constitution quite liberally. For another, I'm not a lawyer but I wonder if the states have proper standing to sue -- might it not be necessary for an individual who had been "injured" by the mandate to sue? And third, since the mandate does not take effect until 2014, I wonder how the attorneys general can sue over something that won't happen for four years.

As to your other question, since there is no "government takeover," I'm in the dark just like you.

Please show me where your accusations of racial and homophobic taunting during the rallies on Saturday are backed up by some fact, soundbite, or video other than the congressional black caucus or staff members of democrat house members. I am extremely suspect of the charges that you have leveled in the past about the Tea Party events and I seriously doubt you have ever gone out to view one of these events in person. I have been to one, and my views are they were energetic, welcoming to those who wanted to find out more, and very vocal on their beliefs. Shame on you for your biased and unreasonable opinions that are based only on 3rd party reporting.

I'm glad the event you attended was free of incident. The reports of the vile behavior on Saturday were consistent and wholly credible, and as far as I know there has been no denial. John Lewis has no reason to "invent" being called the n-word; he's had the actual experience in his lifetime.

Considering your primary beat was foreign news before coming to D.C., I was just curious about your thoughts on CNN's Chief Foreign Correspondent Christiane Amanpour being hired to moderate ABC's This Week?

A different subject. My colleague, the brilliant (but temporarily misguided) Tom Shales, really took a whack at Christiane's selection in today's paper. I couldn't disagree more. I think she'll be sensational and will bring a fresh perspective to the show.

Do you think if the public actually starts realizing that the health care bill isn't so bad and the GOP doesn't make huge gains in he fall that some of the GOP leadership might be in trouble for making a bad call ?

I agree that the Republicans now have a much harder public relations problem -- running against actual legislation, as opposed to stoking fear of imaginary "death panels" and other phantasms that they invented. The bill was passed Sunday and signed today, and still, amazingly, the sky is not full of black helicopters bearing storm troopers who have come to take away our liberties.

Like you, and many others, I was very pleased that the bill passed on Sunday, even though I'm a Canadian. Then I turned on the news, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Washington correspondent, Neil McDonald, opined that this bill is a big victory for insurance companies because all Americans must have insurance and there is no public option. Kind of poured cold water on everything. Is the euphoria that you and others expressed more because President Obama got a bill passed than the substance? Or is McDonald just being grumpy?

He's being grumpy. There were some  important assumptions at the beginning of this process, including that we would maintain our basic (and kind of weird) system of employer-based health insurance; and that we would continue to mediate much of our health care through private, for-profit health insurance companies. Once you accept those assumptions, and perhaps they were inevitable, I don't see how you come up with a system that isn't either fairly generous or really generous to the insurance companies. This ain't Canada.

We can debate (please no arguing) about what constitutes a "right" but one thing that is demonstrably true is that healthy, well educated societies have fared better economically than those who are neither. The exception is when the society has so many replaceable people that it is easy to fill low level unskilled labor slots. (See UK and US industrial revolutions, India's economic boom). However, in those cases there still needed to be educated middle-classes to both foster and run the expansions. De-regulation over the past 30 years has directly led to systemic failures. However, flawed the current bill is, it is an attempt, in the absence of any effort by the opposition, to make this country stronger and, via a rider, better educated. Both of which will end up making us more money in the long run.


What actually are the benefits of this bill? When my 18 year old daughter's coverage under my insurance ends in 5 months, what then?

Your 18-year-old daughter can stay on your insurance for eight more years.

My question involves the polls that are being used to show that the American public "doesn't support" the health care reform that was just signed by President Obama. Aren't there also polls showing that many of the individual parts of reform are very popular with the public? And if this is the case, why aren't more news outlets reporting this?

It has been reported, but I see your point -- I don't think I've seen a story that had those elements reversed, with the headline being that "majorities support elements of health care reform" and the subsidiary element of the story being that people don't like the overall bill. So you could argue the emphasis. It also wasn't always pointed out that some of those who didn't like the bill thought it didn't go far enough.

I hear the term "state's rights" and I cringe. It's loaded with imagery and real history that is very offensive to some Americans. However, state's rights is the cover being used by the states that are suing the Federal govn't over HRC. I would love your opinion of what this rhetoric reflects about the current debate, the current state of political dialogue, and for this President and Congress to have any other major legislative success.

Given that I spent my childhood in segregated South Carolina, I'm not particularly objective or even analytical about the phrase "states' rights."

Why haven't we heard any screeching lately from Sarah Palin re the healthcare bill? I thought she loved to see her name in print (and pixels).

She spoke up yesterday. Said she believed President Obama, with his limited executive experience, was "in over his head." I kid you not.

Now that healthcare legislation is passed (and I agree with you that there is no way it will be repealed, irrespective of November elections), what do you propose if it proves to be woefully underfunded, similar to Medicare or Medicaid? Once you have given people an entitlement, how do you curb it or reign it in if it proves too expensive? People are quick to clamor for federal government entitlements, but become furious when asked to sacrifice or pay for them. Funding the Big 3 (now 4) entitlements surely cannot come solely from "the rich."

No, and that's the larger task down the road: Rationalizing our entitlements, and paying for what we demand of our government. Of course, I should point out that the CBO says the health care reform law helps in this rationalization by cutting the deficit more than $1 trillion over then next 20 years...



Anyway, sorry but I have to take off a couple of minutes early today. Thanks, everyone, for participating, and see you next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.

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