Senate Speech Heralds a New Social Movement

This week the sincere effort of millions of people across the nation once again proved effective in the face of determined opposition from the White House and Congress, as single payer health reform reached another milestone in its historic journey.

When the Senate initiated its debate on health insurance reform, Senator Bernie Sanders offered a single-payer amendment, with co-sponsors Sherrod Brown and Roland Burris. Initially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid skipped over it, allowing other amendments to come to the floor instead.

But nationwide events on International Human Rights Day, the delivery of paper “bodies” to the senate offices, non-violent civil disobedience including nine arrests at Senator Schumer’s office, and hundreds of thousands of emails and phone calls and faxes to the Senate changed Reid’s mind.

When Sanders introduced his amendment the Senator from Oklahoma, Dr. Coburn, rose according to the rules of the Senate to insist that the bill be read in full. It was estimated that reading the 767-page bill would take days, stalling a galloping Senate process.

We wondered: Could this be an unexpected gift? If Senator Lieberman could make an intransigent stand on behalf of the insurance companies, would Sanders make a stand on behalf of the health of the people?

Reading the bill would prompt our movement to swing into action yet again. We would invite the nation to tune in to C-SPAN to hear how a national single payer health system would provide comprehensive high-quality health care to all citizens. Yet Coburn’s maneuver had its effect.

Reid demanded that Sanders withdraw the amendment, for the Senate timetable leading up to Christmas could not be delayed. Besides insurance reform, there was the pressing issue of funding the wars. Within 3 hours Sanders agreed. In return he got 30 minutes on the Senate floor.

Sanders’ speech was riveting. He spoke the words that we have been waiting to hear for so long. He spoke about the beauty and simplicity of Medicare for All. He spoke about having the courage to stand up to the medical-industrial complex which profits at the expense of human suffering.

Most importantly, Sanders spoke about the national movement for single payer being led by nurses, doctors, medical students, faith and labor organizations and people across the land of all backgrounds and beliefs. He declared that this strong movement is not going away and he announced that we will succeed.

So we will remember December 16th, 2009 as a turning point in the struggle for health care justice. Single payer started this year “off the table.” But the accumulating efforts of millions of people delivered it to the floor of the United States Senate.

To win single-payer health reform it will take many more speeches on the floor of Congress. And the only force that will propel Congress forward is a great social movement. In 2009 we have seen that movement rising up – and getting results.

Every day more people see that an effective and just health system is already at hand: a single-payer national health program modeled on the Medicare system. And every day that the White House and Congress delay single-payer reform, people suffer needlessly and die preventable deaths. Yet the Senate blunders on, with a colossal gift to the insurance industry.

It is time for the health of human beings to prevail. It is time to end the insurance cartel. Please join us as we continue forge the movement that will win Medicare for All.

Onward to single payer.

Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician in Baltimore, co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and PNHP Congressional Fellow. Andy Coates is an internist in Albany, secretary of the Capital District (NY) chapter of PNHP and co-chair of Single Payer New York. Read other articles by Margaret Flowers and Andy Coates.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 20th, 2009 at 11:19am #

    It’s also good news for canadians that so many americans want one of their very important basic rights institutionalized.
    American warlord and lords obviously fear that once americans get that door ajar, they may eventually bust it wide open and finally breethe some fresh air.
    Americans might even demand a second pillar of a democracy be instituted, the right to be informed; with penalties for those who willfuly disinform.

  2. beverly said on December 20th, 2009 at 11:22am #

    Over Thanksgiving weekend, Bernie Sanders was on one of the Sunday morning disinformation fests. In the midst of his orations, he mentioned that Medicare for All single payer plan was the best option for health care but “that’s not going to happen.”

    Given these comments, I don’t put much stock in anything he says regarding single payer. He had a mainstream forum to tout such and quickly dismissed it. Further reason to blow off Bernie Sanders is fact that he agreed to withdraw his amendment. Given the machinations being employed by the White House and Congress to quash single payer debate and to ram through a disastrous health reform bill, this is the time for so-called single payer advocates like Sanders to lace up the gloves and come out fighting. So what if reading his 700-page amendment delayed votes for more war funding and the steam rolling health care scam? That’s exactly what was needed.

    Single payer advocates are applauding Sanders but he deserves little praise. If he’s not willing to put up a fight, act the fool, or whatever means necessary to derail Obamacare and get a decent plan passed – then he is of little use to single payer fans – and the public in general.

    I’ll be interested to see if when this sham reform bill goes to final vote if Sanders votes for it. If he does, he – and every other sell-out who votes yea – DOESN”T need to be rewarded with another term in office come re-election time. Bad deeds have gone unpunished for too long – there needs to be consequences, i.e., losing your freaking seat, for continually screwing over the public.

  3. Deadbeat said on December 20th, 2009 at 12:11pm #

    Here is a take on Sander’s performance that greatly differs from what the authors are pushing…

    Bernie the Quitter fools us again

    According to Michael Colby, the legislation would have taken only 12 hours of the Senate time to read into the record — not days as the authors claim.

    As Colby summarizes …

    Shame on Bernie for so perfectly joining the quitters (once again). Because a real “independent” wouldn’t have so blatantly betrayed the moment of history he dangled in front of the single-payer movement. All for – what!? – saving a few hours of the Senate’s time? So they could rush to throw more money at the Pentagon? Good grief.

    Once again we see the smoke and mirrors of the Left. Sanders the so-called ” Socialist” is also yet another Chomskyite denier of Zionist Lobby. Here’s a link where him and the Liberal Thom Hartman ridicules Kathleen and Bill Christensen.

    Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch has seen through the Sanders facade for decades. It is time that other see through it as well.

  4. Max Shields said on December 20th, 2009 at 12:26pm #

    Sanders is only a “left” in a political system that thinks the right is centrists.

    Let’s be clear, Sanders doesn’t speak for progressives unless he matches action to words. I think there’s a better chance, given his track record, and for what it’s worth that Kucinich will not vote for this HC bill.

    But in a world of Orwellian language – what the hell is the LEFT?

  5. Don Hawkins said on December 20th, 2009 at 12:36pm #

    Ya and these people at counterpunch when you go to the site send money and if you ask me there witting is just more foolishness as we all go down the drain in not such slow motion. I can only imagine being stuck on say one planet with these people.

  6. Max Shields said on December 20th, 2009 at 12:41pm #

    You mean like Alexander Cockburn who has this thing about climate change is a bunch of hocus pocus? And he reaches this conclusion through the mangled notion of the UN needs a raison d’etre. How cute!

    And that’s the way the world ends, not with a bang but a wimper….

  7. Don Hawkins said on December 20th, 2009 at 1:11pm #

    Orwellian language some Max but these people are lazy and the system runs them not the other way around.

  8. Leslie Jones said on December 21st, 2009 at 9:05am #

    I choose not to focus on the criticism of Sanders ,however valid, but be pleased for Americans that at least there is the possibility of momentum for affordable health care for all.
    This is good news.

  9. rosemarie jackowski said on December 21st, 2009 at 12:25pm #

    No one can explain why the Sander’s amendment was so long. Offering a 700 page amendment automatically brings the expected response that it received. Bernie is too smart a politician to not have known that – so what is the real explanation??? Here is an amendment that could be written on a match book cover. “Every State has the right to reject or set up a Single Payer system within its boundaries”.

    I advocate a Single Payer health care bill that could be written on 10 pages. Anything longer than that is sure to contain too many earmarks, loopholes, and legalese.