Contained in the budget bill recently passed out of Congress were some small but important gains in health care funds, especially for women, veterans, and low-income working families.
These groups have seen federal funding for needed programs that affect them starved, slashed and cut and ignored by the previous Republican Congress and President Bush year after year.
But in a signal that electing a new Congress can shift political power away from the right and see benefits for working people, the recent omnibus bill contains much-needed new funding for programs.
The bill adds new funds to Title X family planning programs and eliminate funds for disastrous and wasteful abstinence-only programs. These Title X services provide millions of low-income patients in with such health needs as contraceptive services; breast and cervical cancer screening; sexually transmitted infection (including HIV) prevention, testing and education; and related counseling services.
The bill funds S-CHIP through 2008, but, because of repeated Bush vetoes, Congress could not provide a basis for expanding and reauthorizing the program to cover more children who lack health insurance.
Billions have been added for the first time to provide for veterans health (including mental health) needs. as well as job and education benefits. Under Bush services have been ignored: see Walter Reed Army Hospital and waiting lines for six months at most veterans health care facilities as only one example.
Most social programs that benefits working families such as subsidies for home heating costs in the winter or food distribution to poor seniors, Head Start, and more received new funding or reauthorization.
Now I know there are some people on the left who will say none of this matters because the Democrats didn't end the war. Well I think that is wrong. I think the Democrats can be criticized for failing to force some change in US policy toward Iraq.
But to say these other issues – with that one could include the push for universal health care, union rights, and civil rights protections, or raising the minimum wage, expanding access to college entrance by reducing the cost of student loans, etc. – are less important is simply wrong.
Who is it that doesn't need to have their home heating costs subsidized, or to have the benefit of a higher minimum wage, or who cares nothing for health services that directly benefit women, or who is it that really has no need for protecting the right to organize a union, or who is it that has never really thought much about the value of Head Start? Who is it that is privileged enough to say, "Civil rights protections – whether gay rights, reproductive rights, affirmative action, immigrant rights – are so less important."
I think these things are important – earth-shatteringly important. And the point is that a serious change in the presidency and the make-up of Congress (and subsequent make-up of the courts) will see a real transformation both in how working families are able to live their lives and in the political terrain on which we can fight for social transformation on a greater scale.
This is the essence of the real victories that congressional Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi really more than anyone else, have been hammering out over the las few months. One might even say she picked up a reluctant House and an even more reluctant Senate and carried them on her back as far as she could.
Now it is up to the rest of us to give her the tools, the mandate, the overwhelming political victory in November 2008 that includes an increased number of progressives, a stronger Democratic majority in both House, and the presidency to not only complete the agenda of the New Direction Congress but to win the right of working people to join and organize unions, to win universal health care, to end the war in Iraq, and to protect and strengthen key social institutions like public education, Social Security, Medicare. This is a stepping stone from which working families united with an all-people's coalition will really change our country.