The “Dean” of African-American congressman had a few words of advice Monday for President Obama in getting his landmark health care legislation through the U.S. Senate: “Start knocking some heads together.”
"The president could take a few pages from Lyndon Johnson's book ... and start knocking heads together," said Rep. John Conyers, (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the most senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Conyers, who entered Congress in 1965, witnessed firsthand the way Johnson played hardball with Congress in wending key pieces of legislation through a stubborn Congress. Both the Voting Rights Act and Medicare passed with Johnson’s guidance, as The Associated Press points out. Obama was still too young to enter kindergarten at the time.
On Monday, Obama was able to record a major victory when the House barely passed a comprehensive health care bill, but it immediately raised questions about whether it would pass muster in the U.S. Senate. Not only is there little likelihood that Senate Republicans will jump on board with Obama, but moderate Democrats in Congress’ upper chamber have made it clear that the House version of the bill is not acceptable to them.
Just listen to Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut: "As a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote." And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: "The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate."
But, there wasn’t complete unity in the House, either – not even among Democrats, as witnessed by the 220-215 vote and the fact that 39 Democrats joined the Republicans in opposing the measure. Still, “House Democrats overcame their own divisions and broke an impasse that threatened the bill after liberals grudgingly accepted tougher restrictions on abortion funding, as abortion opponents demanded,” AP writes.
In the end, even a Republican joined forces to get it through the House. In the U.S. Senate, Olympia Snowe of Maine has signaled that she would break ranks with her fellow Republicans if the right version of reform is available. While she is not a fan of the so-called “public option,” which would allow government funding for health care, she has agreed to a “trigger” for such an option if health care, and humongous premiums, remain under control of the mighty few insurance companies a few years down the road.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La), a moderate, likes this idea too. "If the private market fails to reform, there would be a fallback position," Landrieu told AP. "It should be triggered by choice and affordability, not by political whim."