However, from the start of Christmas week, the important and interesting question was not whether the Senate would pass its bill (that was a foregone conclusion once Ben Nelson yielded to party pressure and waived his abortion objections in exchange for a nice helping of pork). It was whether those of us who believe in the longstanding American ideals of individual liberty, personal freedom, and private control, would continue to match the Democrats’ determination to impose the opposite. For while passage of the Senate bill was a foregone conclusion, follow-on passage of a compromise bill in both chambers is not not remotely.
The Democrats passed a highly unpopular bill with two votes to spare in the House and none to spare in the Senate. Now they have to blend the bills (mostly reflecting the Senate one) and get them back through both chambers after hearing from their constituents over the holidays.
Furthermore, the House bill passed only because of relatively strong anti-abortion language demanded by pro-life Democrats in particularly precarious seats. The Senate bill doesn’t contain that language. So either the anti-abortion Democrats in the House or the pro-abortion Democrats in the Senate are going to have to cave. Combine this with other issues, and the Democrats’ almost-nonexistent margin for error, and final passage is anything but certain.
Additionally, the Democrats’ bills would not go into effect in any meaningful way until at least 2013. They could have been written to go into effect immediately, but the Democrats made the calculation that it was better to delay implementation by several years so that they could mislead the American people by citing “ten-year costs” for six years’ worth of of Obamacare. That enabled them to pitch an approximately $2.5 trillion bill (its real first-10-year costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office) as an $871 billion bill. But that decision has left us with this reality: The Democrats can only implement their overhaul, and avoid is repeal, if the American people choose to send them back to Capitol Hill and to the White House in 2010 and 2012. The American people, and not the Democratic party, will ultimately decide Obamacare’s fate.
But the American people will also decide the fate of Obamacare in a much more immediate sense. Across recent weeks, Democratic representatives in both congressional chambers have taken tremendous heat from the Obama administration. Now, over the holidays, they’ll get to interact with their constituents face-to-face. They’ve felt the immediate pressures of Washington; now they’ll get to feel the pressure from those who sent them there the vast majority of whom oppose Obamacare.
They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to pay higher taxes, higher premiums, and higher overall health costs; who don’t want to lose their consumer-driven health plans; who don’t want to see colossal sums of money siphoned out of Medicare and spent on Obamacare; who don’t want a health-care system based on political cronyism (witness the shameless exemption of the longshoreman’s union from the tax on “Cadillac plans,” and the survival of Medicare Advantage in Florida but not anywhere else). They’ll get to hear from people who don’t want to see a trillion dollars over 12 years be transferred from taxpayers to insurers; who don’t want to see deficits rise and the quality of care fall; and who don’t want to have the federal government inject itself into the historically and rightfully private relationship between patient and doctor.
And the Democratic members better listen. In the wake of Hillarycare’s defeat in 1994, the voters took out their frustrations on typical Democrats, but they went much easier on the more conservative ones who had largely prevented Hillarycares passage. So, if history is any guide, those Democrats who vote against the final version of Obamacare (and, in the Senate, against the final cloture motion) will likely be spared, while those who vote for it will invite the voters’ wrath.
In short, now is not the time for anyone who opposes Obamacare to despair or to quit. Now is the time to fight.
This blog post originally appeared on National Review’s Critical Condition.