Health care is one of the most important challenges of our time. This is the first time in half a century that the country is close to passing sweeping health insurance reform.
This year's debate also feels like it has gone on for half a century. Does it all have to be so . . . boring?
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, "So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
And that was . . . nearly a year ago.
The House has been debating, the Senate's been debating, and the lawmakers seem to be speaking a different language.
All that jargon: "Public option." Letting states "opt in." Letting states "opt out." Public option with "a trigger." Kind of made me feel like pulling the trigger, or submitting to one of those "death panels."
I know, there were no death panels, but for some reason we spent weeks arguing about their non-existence anyway.
Nancy Pelosi got a health care bill through the House. You probably missed it because the vote happened late on a Saturday night, when most people are, well, enjoying themselves.
The Senate, meanwhile, oozes along at the pace of molasses. The Senate is a club with 100 members, each of whom has a nuclear weapon. They're always threatening to blow up the latest agreement or they'll keep talking (which is called a filibuster). Except nobody actually filibusters any more, as in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." They just threaten to talk all night.
"The CEOs made a combined $118.6 million in 2007 alone, an average of $11.9 million each," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
"The American people are asking us to stop this bill and start over. They don't want a 2,074-page monstrosity of complexity," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Since the Democrats needed every vote, the legalized extortion - excuse me, "parliamentary maneuvering" - paid off. Mary Landrieu got millions in extra money for Louisiana. Ben Nelson got millions in extra money for Nebraska. Joe Lieberman got the public option thrown out by promising to stop annoying everyone.
And on Christmas Eve - mainly because they all wanted to rush home for the holidays - the Democrats got the 60 votes they needed to pass the health care bill.
But if you think our long national boredom is over, guess again. Now we all get to watch the Senators fight for this bill - all 2,074 pages of it - with the House members, who have their own version.
More jargon, more maneuvering, more breathless excitement! Bring plenty of popcorn - but hold the butter. Remember, your health is at stake.
For more info:
Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes" Column (The Washington Post)