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Last week, in a fit of despair, I invited Slate readers to figure out a way to get the health care reform bill across the finish line. Five hundred and seventy of you replied. I still don't feel that we've licked this problem, but many of your responses were witty or wise. The top winner (by Eric Jaffe of Mill Valley, Calif.) managed to be both—and was a stroke of political genius besides.
One group of readers deserves an apology. After I posted the column inviting submissions, I turned my attention to boning up on the filibuster, about which I was scheduled to yak on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show that evening. I quickly realized that one of the parameters I'd set for the contest was incomplete: "Changing the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster would require even more votes (67) than the number required to end a filibuster (60)." True enough, but what I'd neglected to point out was that the "nuclear option" that Senate Republicans had contemplated to change the filibuster rules back in 2005 (when the GOP was in the majority) required only a simple-majority vote. My segment on Maddow ended up focusing on this intriguing point to the exclusion of all others, and afterward I decided to write about it. This had the unintended effect of rendering moot many excellent entries on the nuclear option.
Reading the submissions Monday night and Tuesday, I gained much insight into what's on the collective mind of Slate readers. A lot of you said the Democrats should force a real old-fashioned filibuster, requiring opponents to hold the floor by speechifying round the clock. A lot of you said it was more possible than I thought to prohibit health insurers from refusing customers based on pre-existing conditions, and that Congress should just do that and then call it a day—because once the insurers started bleeding losses or jacking up premiums sky-high, it would become a lot easier to pass a follow-up bill laying down the "individual mandate" that everybody get coverage. And a lot of you said the budget-reconciliation process could be made to work provided the Senate also passed a separate bill codifying Rep. Bart Stupak's anti-abortion amendment. The best versions of these responses appear below.
A lot of you said let's just institute single-payer and be done with it. A lot of you said we should take health care coverage away from members of Congress until they fix this problem. A lot of you had other health reform proposals of your own that differed from the one currently before Congress. Some of you questioned whether the exercise of figuring out how to pass health reform was really worthwhile, and one of you challenged me to balance this contest out with another one soliciting the most creative strategies to block health reform. (Too easy. Ask Scott Brown!) The most depressing entry read as follows:
There is very little point in participating in what once was the democratic process at this point. Majorities are useless, so why bother? The simple fact is that we have become ungovernable, and what will pass for governance will be what our corporate masters want to happen. Just never mind.
I have moments like that, too, but they pass.
And now, the winners:
Eighth runner-up: Bruce Miller, Grand Ledge, Mich.:
Invent a time machine. Go back to 1974 and tell Ted Kennedy to take the health reform deal Nixon offered. Inventing the time machine is the hard part, but it is likely easier than getting this bill passed. I mourn for the millions of folks who stood to get help under this bill and am ashamed of our country for kicking them to the curb.
Seventh runner-up: George W. Bush, Crawford, Texas (as imagined by Michael W. Price):
Declare that the U.S. is at war with the forces of Death and Disease. Seek a joint resolution stating the same. Scare up support by telling voters they're all going to die. Have the office of legal counsel draft a memo declaring that the president has the inherent and unfettered authority to protect the nation against the evil "Duo of Demise." Implement the preferred version of health care reform through a secret executive order and pay for it with the 2010 war supplemental. Repeat as needed.