Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who is a wise man? He who learns from everyone.

In these days of cynicism about our elected representatives, I more often find reason to believe the opposite about them. One example is Congressman Michael Capuano, a Democrat representing a portion of the Boston metropolitan area. I have known Mike since his days as Mayor of Somerville, and his commitment to doing the public good has been admirable and consistent.

So, Mike now faces a tough vote on the national health care bill. I was not surprised to see an email from him to a broad group of constituents seeking their input on the matter. He asked specific and detailed questions about various provisions in the bill, and yesterday reported back to all of us.

Here are some excerpts from his note, leaving out several sections about the details of the bill. Although he gave me permission to include the whole, I wanted to focus here on his major themes.

I am so impressed with how Michael is handling this issue. Whichever way he votes, I know he will have the country's and the state's interests at heart.

Dear Friends,

Health Care reform is as important an issue as I have dealt with in my life and it is of great interest to many people.

In my last communication I shared a detailed letter expressing some concerns and seeking input. Since that time, I have received many calls, emails and letters. Most calls merely express support or opposition to the proposal. Others have more detailed points to make. I value this input and I thank you. I am still weighing my vote.

I decided long ago that this is one of the few issues I will decide without regard for political impact - it is too important. I will cast my vote on the basis of what I think is in the best interest of our country, state and district; if there is a political price to pay for that vote, so be it.

So, as of this writing, here is the status of the issues I raised:

1. Pundit views to the contrary - I have NOT decided how to vote. I want to vote YES, but I am still not certain that this SPECIFIC bill deserves my support.

2. One reason for this hesitancy is that we still do NOT have a final draft of the reconciliation bill. No one can or should make a final decision before they read, consider and discuss the final product. We are so far beyond generalities and rhetoric that decisions made before the actual language of the bill is available are irresponsible.


8. Process - Some opponents of the underlying proposal are focusing on the process for passage. While I don't like the convoluted process we will be following, it will not deter me from a thorough analysis of the proposal. I would ask if anyone remembers the process that was used for Medicare, Civil Rights or any other important legislation. Furthermore, I can assure you that convoluted processes have been used many times by Republicans and Democrats. In fact, process is only a means to an end - the real issue is the product. If the product is good, I will vote yes - if it is bad, I will vote no. Following the process may be an interesting sidelight, but the important factors are decided in the substance of the bill.

Like others, I wait anxiously for the text of the reconciliation bill. When it is public, I will ask again for comment from informed observers.

I realize that many people are tired of this debate - so am I. But it is important and complicated. It took years to enact Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - and I argue that it was worth the time and trouble.

I realize that some just want us to vote yes or no based on a few talking points. I will not succumb to that suggestion. Health care is a serious and complicated matter. I do not believe that the vast majority of people really want me to vote on the basis of rhetoric.

I also realize that some see this as a political tug-of-war between the right and the left or between Democrats and Republicans. I do not see it that way at all. I see it as the implementation of basic values:
First - Do you believe that every American should have health care coverage? I do.
Second - If you do not, the answer is easy, vote no. But then you should also think we should repeal Medicare and Medicaid.
Third - If you agree with me that the goal is to expand coverage, the next questions are whether THIS actual proposal gets us closer to that goal, does it do it in a fiscally responsible manner, and does it harm the programs we already have in place? The answers are never as clean and neat as the first two questions and this is what I am trying to decide now.

For those who have contacted me, I appreciate your input. For those who wish to do so, we are happy to hear from you.

Congressman Mike Capuano
8th District, Massachusetts

P.S. The title for this blog comes from the Pirkei Avot, or Chapters of the Fathers, a group of Talmudic commentaries on the Old Testament, dealing with moral and ethical principles.


Patty said...

Very diplomatic, very eloquent, once again a great letter from Mike Capuano.

Paul from Mind Parts said...

This line: " In fact, process is only a means to an end - the real issue is the product" was exactly in the sob story op-Ed piece from our esteemed HHS secretary today.

What a long winded letter which said absolutely nothing about details... If you think he is going to study this thousand page plus behemoth and make an informed vote, I would seriously rethink that.

Medicare, civil rights? How nice to drag these into the same discussion. You don't think this is a not-so-subtle way of saying that to vote no on this current proposal means you are against civil rights?

Medicare and the Civil Rights act were both passed in the Senate with votes from both parties. This will not.

Further, reconciliation was used only beginning in 1974, after both of these laws (which both passed by more than a simple majority).

To say that reconciliation was used by Republicans and that it's okay now is not fair. The aim is about budgets... not about entitlements. Everyone knows this.

Further, when Bush used reconciliation for the tax cuts, they were written to expire in 10 years to conform to the Byrd Rule. Does anyone think that a new PROGRAM like this will expire in 10 years? Of course not.

So, how to take Capuano's letter seriously? When obviously it is not serious. He's acting under the guise of being serious.

Anonymous said...

Knowing him well, I take him at his word. (Please recall that I left out lots of the details.)

That being said, I wish that they would choose not to use parliamentary procedures like this, in that it undermines public confidence on the part of many.

catsandmusic said...

I am still upset that he is not our junior Senator. The people in his Congressional district are very lucky.

James said...

Besides spending time on learning you should also spend some time in practicing all that you've learned otherwise you won't be so wise.