Now that the U.S. House has passed a health care bill, President Obama is pushing the U.S. Senate to follow suit before the window of opportunity closes for delivering coverage for 36 million uninsured Americans.
Just hours after House Democrats – with the help of a lone, nothing-to-lose Republican – barely approved a historic $1.1 trillion comprehensive health care measure, Obama urged the senators to remember why the American people sent politicians to Washington. It’s time to “take up the baton and bring this effort to the finish line,” he said from the White House Rose Garden.
“For years we’ve been told that this couldn’t be done,” Obama said. “Moments like this are why they sent us here.”
Obama is well aware that, as difficult as passage was in the House – it was approved despite the fact that 39 members of his own party opposed it – the work will be even harder in the Senate. Currently, there are 58 Democrats in the U.S. Senate and two Independents; together, they comprise the 60 members of the upper chamber’s Democratic Caucus.
If the Senate does deliver on health care reform, it would give the president a much-needed victory. As the nation’s economic situation seems increasingly shaky – given double-digit overall unemployment for the first time in more than a quarter-century and record home foreclosures – the success, or failure, of the Obama administration will be judged largely on whether it was able to accomplish what no other president in history could.
But the administration has its work cut out. Forget the Republicans for a moment; can Democrats find common ground on such touchy issues as whether there should be coverage for abortions and undocumented immigrants, or whether Americans should be presented with an option for government funded insurance as an alternative to more expensive coverage?
The bottom line is, while Democrats could revel in Saturday’s late-night, razor-thin victory over the past couple days, it’s time to put their exuberance on hold and focus on the real task at hand – getting a bill through the Senate. Even if they are successful, then they must find a way to reconcile the House version of the bill with that of the Senate in a way that makes all lawmakers feel like they’ve laid their differences aside for the good of the American people.