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Kunin: The Health Care Vote

03/23/10 5:55PM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(HOST) During the vote in congress on the Health Care Legislation, commentator Madeline Kunin found herself reflecting on the long and complicated process leading up to that moment - and the contribution certain women made to the bill's passage.

(KUNIN) The word "historic" took on new meaning Sunday night when the health care bill won the magic number of 216 votes. Access to health care for all Americans has been on the agenda for more than 60 years. No President succeeded until Barack Obama and the Congress succeeded, sadly without one Republican vote.

That night I was in Detroit where I had given a speech to Michigan Democrats - a state with more than 15% unemployment - the highest in the country. The pain in the room was palpable. Everyone knew someone who had lost a job, and with it, their insurance.

But the mood was euphoric. It was hard to suppress cheers before the vote was counted.

The drama that preceded the vote was tense. Do they or don’t they have the votes? Not until a compromise was forged with Rep. Bart Stupak and the President on the abortion issue did we know the answer.

One episode in the drama confirmed my belief that women in leadership often tend to see the world differently than men. That was when 56,000 Catholic nuns took on the Bishops by supporting the Senate version of the bill, which the Bishops opposed. The care giving nuns who stood at the bedside understood that lives would be saved when more people could get health care. This was not an ideological battle, but a human one.

How much did the fact that the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi was a woman have to do with success? She was the tough love, mother of five, getting the kids to school on time. Her goal was simple - to get the job done.

Then there were ugly episodes. One Congressman shouted "baby killer" at Mr. anti-abortion Stupak after he spoke in favor of the bill. Whatever happened to decency and decorum?

Books will be written about the serpentine path this bill took to become law. The final chapter will have to wait. What we do know is that 32 million Americans will have the peace of mind that comes with health insurance, that we will have a healthier America as a result. Those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be turned away by insurance companies. These are not just statistics, these are stories about families who have lost their jobs, their insurance, and often, their homes. And as the President said, "it was the right thing to do."

More importantly, this was a victory not only for Democrats, but for the American political system. With all its flaws, the passage of health care reform validates the belief that democracy is capable of creating fundamental change to improve the lives of its citizens.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Madeleine Kunin on-line at VPR-dot-net.
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