Tuesday, 23 March 2010

ObamaCare highlights the gridlock in Washington

Much has been written already about the Democratic victory in the House of Representatives on Sunday night over healthcare in America, but I thought one statistic neatly encapsulated the problem that America has with its political system at the moment. All 178 members of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives voted against the Bill.

The American political system is much more fluid than here in the UK. The political parties are little more than loose coalitions which meet once every four years. Politics in the States has therefore always been about building coalitions across the aisle on specific pieces of legislation, which can happen when there is no whipping system as we have here in the UK. For example, it was an alliance of Northern Republicans and Western Democrats, led by Hubert Humphrey, which managed to pass the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War, which granted the vote to African Americans.

But, in America today, the Republican Party is using a form of ‘whipping’ to keep its representatives in line, namely the threat that Conservative Repulblican candidates will be put up against incumbent Republican Congressmen and Senators in primary (one party) elections. The result is that Congressmen and Senators dare not ‘cross the aisle’ to support legislation even if it is in the interest of their constituents. The result all too often is gridlock and pitched battles for votes as seen on Sunday.

The Healthcare Bill is not perfect, but approximately 30 million more Americans have access to healthcare today. Michael Moore the documentary filmmaker (his film Sicko is a hilarious ‘must see’ on this subject) said on Channel 4 News last night that this is only a partial victory, due to the dropping of the publicly funded option (the new system will still be privately administered by insurance companies) describing the Conservative Republican stance as little more than “we’re American, we’ll heal ourselves”.

Despite its flaws this is an extraordinary victory for Obama. It must be remembered that in one stroke he has done what great political fixers like Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the 32nd President) and Lyndon Baines Johnson (the 36th President) couldn’t.


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