Sarah Palin may have the headlines.
But Harry Reid has a health-care reform bill, and it is advancing. Indeed, with Saturday night’s 60-39 Senate vote to open a historic debate on the measure, the movement humanize America’s healthcare system — which began almost 70 years ago — is closer to a congressional breakthrough than at any time in its history.
“Ted would be happy,” Reid said Saturday night, invoking the name of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who spent a political lifetime championing health care reform.
“We have the momentum that is going to keep this process moving,” added Reid, who declared, “Now is the time to make sure all Americans have access to affordable healthcare.”
No, this does not mean that healthcare reform is inevitable, or that what may be achieved will be sufficient. Saturday night’s vote was merely a first step — and a procedural one at that.
But it does mean that the anti-reformers — who take their marching orders from Palin’s Facebook page and Twittering — are having hard time preventing progress.
It is not for lack of effort, mind you.
Palin made a game effort on Saturday to block the Senate consideration of the Reid’s reform measure.
The most talked about Republican of the moment took time from her Going Rogue book tour used her Twitter account to issue a call to arms to the nine percent of Americans who tell pollsters they want her to lead the country:
Thot I’d stick w tour news on Twitter but can’t help digress: Call senators! Tell ’em KILL THE BILL tonite;horrible govt healthcare takeover
Senate healthcare takeover debate begins in an hour. Pls call senators if u care about another 1/6th of our economy swallowed up by Big Govt
But, while Palin and the death-panel fabulists who would follow her off any cliff may be getting most of the media attention these days, they for an old, not-exactly “camera-ready” legislator named Harry Reid.
Palin and her enraged Republican spent the last week ranting and raving about the perils of public programs. And everyone from Oprah Winfrey to the Sean Hannity tuned in.
So where was Reid?
Quietly talking up health care reform inside the Democratic caucus, gently prodding moderate Democrats to do the right things, and if appeals to their morality did not prevail showing them polls that indicated the vast majority of Americans still favor real reform of a broken system.
Slowly, the scared and uncertain Democrats came home. Reid worked ’em in Washington, while grassroots activists prodded them at home.
In the end, the Democrats who were needed heard far more from union members and Organizing for America stalwarts than from the Palinites, who were still trying to figure out their mentor’s oblique Twitter message.
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, a steady foe of abortion rights, said he could live with Reid’s bill, even if it did not contain the rigid restrictions on reproductive rights that had been attached to the House health-care reform legislation in the form of the Stupak amendment.
Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, perhaps the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, said he believed it was appropriate to open a debate on the bill.
So did the scared southerners from states that voted overwhelmingly for Republican John McCain (and, yes, Sarah Palin) in 2008: Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’ Blanche Lambert Lincoln.
Even Joe Lieberman came around, as those familiar with how much the Connecticut Independent-Democrat relies on Reid to maintain his perch in the Senate pecking order knew he would.
When it came time to count the votes, Reid had the 60 he needed.
And health-care reform had cleared a major hurdle.
This is a big deal for a lot of reasons.
First, it reminds all of us in the media we all should have been paying more attention to Harry Reid than Sarah Palin this week.
Second, it suggests that the Democrats might yet prove to be as coherent a force as the “Party of ‘No'” Republicans — which is no small matter, as congressional Democrats outnumber congressional Republicans by a 3-2 margin.
Third, it confirms that health-care reform is still very much on the agenda — despite the best efforts of Palin and her compatriots to “KILL THE BILL” and of pundits to pen its obituary.
There are still no guarantees that America will get the national health-care reform it needs — the Senate bill has plenty of problems.
It does not even mean that America will get the modest reform that might reasonably be expected from this Congress and this President. There will still be much wrangling in the Senate, much wrangling in the conference committee that seeks to reconcile differing House and Senate bills and much wrangling in the House, where the abortion divide seems to run deeper and create greater challenges.
But Harry Reid finished the week with a healthcare reform bill that was clearing the necessary hurdles.
And Sarah Palin finished it with a Twitter message that contributed about as much to the debate as has the fine Alaskan whine that is her book.