Where Should Progressives Be on the Senate Bill?

Roger Hickey of Campaign for America’s Future, a leading progressive policy and advocacy organization, has what I think is one of the best arguments in favor of progressives supporting health care reform legislation. Unlike many people urging progressives to support the legislation despite its shortcomings, Hickey is respectful and acknowledges the validity of criticism from the left.

So President Obama can celebrate his victory and momentum, but he had better not pretend this legislation is all the health fix we need. A better way to frame it would be to talk about a first step. (Or Sen. Harkin’s image of a “starter house” that can be added onto.) President Obama – and our growing movement – should take credit for getting us here and then declare that we will monitor the performance of the insurance and drug companies carefully, enforcing regulations and strengthening them when necessary. Already, progressives are campaigning for new laws to force drug companies to lower their prices through competition – far beyond the Senate or House health reform acts.

Our movement should see this health care act as just one step toward real health reform.

I’m not 100% sold that looking at this legislation as a first step is necessarily the right way to think. There will be immediate efforts by the GOP to roll back these reforms and since many won’t take affect until 2012 and beyond, they will have a couple bites at the apple. It’s hard to imagine that there will be many steps taken in the right direction between now and 2014. While Hickey may be right to assert this as the beginning of a policy process, I’m not sure politics will allow it to progress in a linear path towards improvement.

That said, treating health care reform as a movement does make sense. To do so requires long-term vision and seeing how you get from here to there. Hickey is right that this is a big first step, it’s just an outstanding question of whether a movement can emerge to take the subsequent, necessary steps.

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