On Thursday, November 1, 2007, at the Health Affairs 25th anniversary health policy summit, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) were presented awards for their leadership in bipartisan policy making in health care. In conjunction with their awards, the senators pledged their continued dedication to the cause of bipartisanship, particularly in regard to the legislation reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Senator Baucus reviewed the history of the bipartisan creation of SCHIP ten years ago and noted his and Senator Grassley’s determination to find a bipartisan solution for SCHIP reauthorization. Their bipartisan efforts were directed at crossing not only party lines but jurisdictional lines as they invited Republican members of the House to discuss legislation that would survive a presidential veto.
Despite their best efforts to find a bipartisan solution in such a way, the November 1 attempt failed, as the Senate Republican leadership insisted on voting on the bill passed by the House earlier this month. The bill passed the Senate November 1 by a vote of 64-30. While the bill seems slated for a second presidential veto, bipartisan attempts to forge legislation continue.
The SCHIP debate epitomizes the many contrasting threads of the current political fabric. The need for bipartisanship to craft and pass legislation alternates with the contrasting value of party loyalty. In his remarks yesterday, Senator Baucus noted that SCHIP should be viewed as the first step in a uniquely crafted American solution to providing universal health care coverage, a solution that would embrace both the public and private spheres. President George W. Bush has opposed this version of SCHIP and its predecessor on ideological grounds as enlarging the role of the federal government in health care. As John Iglehart, honored November 1 for the founding and stewardship of Health Affairs for the past 25 years, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine on October 18, the SCHIP debate has become the surrogate ideological marker for the coming health care debate in this country.
Perhaps Senator Grassley should get the last word. He reminded the audience on Thursday that however difficult the bipartisan work looks, one should not be cynical. Although the road looks long and bumpy, legislation does get passed. We should appreciate our uniquely American ability, first described by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (published in 1835), to come together in voluntary associations to create institutions and laws that reflect American values.