Monday, September 14, 2009

Senator Dede Feldman's "Fierce Urgency of Now" speech and fervor.

For the Public Option: It’s the Fierce Urgency of Now
Speech to the Rally for the Public Option 9/13/09

New Mexico Senator Dede Feldman

“The fierce urgency of now,” that’s what Martin Luther King called it in 1967 a the Riverside Church in New York as he realized that unless civil rights advocates, students and Americans from every race, creed and ideology joined together, the Vietnam War would destroy a Great Society and divide and devastate a generation of idealistic young Americans.

And it is a phrase that Barak Obama used last year to inspire millions of young Americans to vote and to believe that they could change the future, even against insurmountable odds, vicious lies, and a racist rumor mill based on fears, not facts. Finally, finally, last week ,we heard from our President, we heard that same focus on the moment, that same rejection of the status quo, and that sharp determination to act now.

The fierce urgency of now. Did you hear it? Did you feel it? Do you feel it now?

I hope so, because now is the time to act. Now is the time to tell the House of Representatives that we need a strong public option to keep insurance companies honest and control costs Now is the time to tell the US Senate that it’s time to come to the table. It’s time to stop inventing ways to avoid the issue, to stop waiting for the perfect deal, to stop watering down a good public program into small local co-ops which lack the clout and the purchasing power to provide a low-cost alternative for the hundreds of thousands of uninsured New Mexicans who so desperately need it.

But make no mistake, no matter how eloquent our President is, it is Congress that holds the lock-- and the key-- on health care reform. And if Congress fails to act, and act boldly, every other cause that we hold dear will suffer. It will become much harder to enact strong measures to control climate change, and it will be much harder to address an incipient war in Vietnam-- this one in Afganistan.

The Clock is ticking. It ticks for both the insured and the uninsured. If you are a family or business with insurance, your premium has doubled in the past ten years, straining your budget—and the state’s—to the breaking point. The full cots of the average employer-sponsored health insurance plan for a family in New Mexico is now an annual $13,581, accounting for 31% of median household income. And it will get much worse, according to a recent study by the New America Foundation which uses New Mexico as a worst case scenario. By 2016, it will cost $28,553 annually and take up 56.5% of median family income.

Small businesses and Families are hanging on by their fingernails and often they are falling off the cliff into the vast army of the uninsured. The insured now account for almost one in every four New Mexicans. Without insurance these New Mexicans fall further into poor health, delaying life-saving check- ups and tests, sinking deeper into chronic diseases or giving up hope. Meanwhile, they require higher-priced care, and flood emergency rooms—driving up prices higher for the rest of us. And the cycle continues. It’s continued in New Mexico for almost two decades.

And there is no safety net.
Not now.
Not in an era of financial crisis where the state of New Mexico is in the hole to the tune of 450 million dollars and we are wondering how to deal with the new folks who are now applying for Medicaid because they have lost their jobs, their homes and other assets.
In the time of Martin Luther King and the Great Society we were building safety nets. Medicare. Medicaid. Food Stamps. Headstart. Now we are shredding them. Next month the New Mexico legislature will go into a special session. On the table are hundreds of million of dollars in Medicaid cuts for people with disabilities, rural health care clinics, school nurses, EMTs treatment centers for the mentally ill---programs that can actually help those who have fallen on hard times.
Rising prices. A swelling army of the uninsured. Busted budgets. A shredded safety net. Further divisions among those who have and have not.
That is the fierce urgency of now—that is the status quo in New Mexico and much of the US where overall 14,000 loose their insurance every day. That is the cost of doing nothing that those who are now telling us to beware of the “fast sale” on health care reform, those who are stirring up a new round of lies, based on a new set of fears, that is the reality that they don’t want us to talk about.
They don’t want to talk about it because in every study we’ve done in New Mexico and now on the national level , the cost of doing nothing is more expensive than any kind of health care reform-- with or without a public option. So when they try and scare you with that one trillion dollar price tag. Remember, that it is over ten years-- it amounts to 100 billion a year. And remember what Sen. Bingaman told us at the NM First Town Hall, that in two years, if we do nothing, the cost will be $320 billion a year. So the cost of nothing is at least triple the cost of health care reform—just two years from now.

So, if you have the will to change, the numbers are there. We are on solid ground. The cost is not a deal breaker.

That’s why we must act now to build on our common values, our belief we are all in this together, and that as our President said the other night,” when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand.” That we believe in this country,--and here in New Mexico --that hard work and responsibility should be rewarded with some measure of security and fair play and the acknowledgment that some times government has to step in to help deliver on that promise. “

That’s why we need a public option. That’s why we must not shy away from this alternative just because it is a government initiative. This plan has been distorted as “creeping socialism”, as a giant bureaucracy that will come between patients and their doctors. The reality is much different. … a public option is not a single payer system., as much as some of us might like that. It is not Medicare for All, It is an insurance product, one among many, that will be offered under an insurance exchange or gateway system that will impose some consistency and sense into the labyrinth of policies which now create unnecessary expense. And it will provide consumers a choice, and keep costs down, by competing with existing companies. That used to be called the American way.
That’s why it has been endorsed by a three fourths vote by the National Conference of State Legislatures, each one of which is struggling to pay for escalating health care costs for teachers, public employees, and the busy emergency rooms now serving the uninsured through out the country.
And it is why 42 of us in the New Mexico legislature have written to the New Mexico congressional delegation in support of the public option and a provision to allow states who wish to develop their own comprehensive plans to do so without preemption by ERISA or other federal reforms.
But In order to keep this option on the table, in the coming days and weeks, each one of us must step up to debunk the myths and the fears that are going to come with more and more frequency, with louder, more impolite interruptions as we get closer to our goal.
No good thing ever comes without a struggle.
Are you ready?” I am.
And so was Ted Kennedy, who understood the fierce urgency of now --even as he faced his own death. I’d like to close with an excerpt of the letter that was written to President Obama back in May…because I think it was not really written to President Obama, but to all of us. It goes like this.
“In the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me—and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination. (Remember it was Ted Kennedy and his staff who authored the Senate’s HELP committee bill, you know, the only one that has come out of committee in the Senate) There will be struggles—there always have been—and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat…. that you will stay with the cause until it’s won. I saw your conviction that the time is now, and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than materials things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country. “
Those are the stakes. Those are the reasons why health care reform is the civil rights issue of our time. We must not fail. We will not fail. Carpe Diem.
Thank you.