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Healthcare debate far from over, media predict

Video by Jonathan CRANE

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-03-22

US media differed widely in their reactions a day after Democrats made a historic thrust to pass comprehensive healthcare legislation. With conservative passions burning high, the divisive reform still faces its toughest tests, newspapers say.

“Gone is the promise […] of a ‘postpartisan’ Washington,” read the New York Times, a day after Democrats passed legislation that promises to remake healthcare in the world’s richest country. “Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote,” the paper regretted.

While the media seized on the historic significance of the bill's passage, the only uniform opinion across the news spectrum was that healthcare debate in the US is far from over. Democrats could savour their victory, but only for the shortest interval.

The San Francisco Chronicle took aim at the bad faith it says Republicans exhibited in their campaign to kill the bill, lamenting “the lack of bipartisan involvement” but also “the level of disingenuousness in the debate, from the phony claims that it would create ‘death panels’ to the gross misrepresentation that Obama's plan amounted to a government takeover of healthcare.”

Political suicide?

Highlights of Democrats’ new healthcare reform

 - Insurers cannot deny patients coverage for pre-existing conditions or charge higher premiums due to gender or medical history.

- Insurance exchanges to be created to help small businesses and the unemployed buy less expensive coverage.

- Individuals without coverage would face a fine, with the exception of poorer Americans.

- Subsidies for families earning less than $88,000 annually.

- Surtax on people earning more than $200,000 annually.

- States could choose whether to ban abortion coverage in plans offered in insurance exchanges.

- No public option.

"Democrats' death by suicide,” titled the Washington Times, not missing the opportunity to add medical jargon to their view that Democrats will have sacrificed control of the US Congress in their single-minded bend to pass an unpopular bill.

“The malformed health legislation is not the only reason Democrats are facing political extinction in November, but it is one of the most dramatic,” The Washington Times declared, insisting that Democrats would pay a political price in mid-term elections for ignoring their constituents' concern about greater government control of their health.

The Los Angeles Times hailed “A historic first step,” and a landmark accomplishment of the Obama administration, but also speculated on the electoral fate of Democrats. “The controversy surrounding [the healthcare bill] threatens to end his party's majority in Congress. Rarely has such a good thing for Americans been perceived by so many as a threat to their livelihood and liberty,” the LA Times wrote.

'Making it work'

Editorials in major newspapers echoed the standoff between the two major parties in Congress and gave a taste of the challenge ahead for jubilant Democrats.

The Wall Street Journal issued its word of warning to those uninsured citizens inclined to hope their circumstance will improve with the bill’s passing. “So this hour of liberal political victory is a good time to adapt the ‘Pottery Barn’ rule […]: You break it, you own it,” soured the conservative daily, predicting the eventual doom of the healthcare system, the government of the United States, or both.

While the San Francisco Chronicle simply conceded that “the challenge to make this plan work could be every bit as daunting as getting it passed,” Slate rallied Obama supporters for the battle ahead:

“We have seen a president who evidently has learned how to lead, who relishes winning, and who is primed to become a more effective progressive. For that we should be grateful. It should whet his appetite as a fighter -- and ours.”

Date created : 2010-03-22