Senator Lincoln has a lot of work to do if she's going to be remembered as a transformative political figure in Arkansas. Helping to pass the largest health care reform legislation in our nation's history would be a good start.
Consider what Arkansas has contributed to historic legislative struggles of the past. Born in Lonoke, former Senate Majority Leader “Scrappy Joe” Robinson was one of the key architects of Social Security — arguably the most successful government program in our nation's history. Social Security virtually eliminated the nationwide scourge of poverty amongst the elderly. This is also the state that elected Rep. Wilbur D. Mills, who played a significant role in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.
Arkansans like these were known for their grit and determination. In fact, like heroine Mattie Ross in the famed historical novel “True Grit” written by Arkansan Charles Portis, Lincoln must be tenacious, strong and independent. We're counting on her bold leadership. Now is not the time for kowtowing to special interests from industries that have given her over $700,000.
Arkansas loves a fighter. That's our tradition. Frankly, I wonder whether the waffling and uncertainty coming from Blanche Lincoln in this health care debate so far isn't the real source of her current political troubles.
People in our state can't wait any longer for reform. Insurance premiums have skyrocketed 66 percent in the last decade while the median earnings of workers only increased 12 percent. One private insurance company controls 75 percent of the Arkansas market. We badly need the competition and affordability pressures that would be created by a public health insurance option. Add to that, one in six Arkansans were uninsured last year, including 61,100 children. So where's Senator Lincoln's true grit in fighting for a health care bill that will reduce the deficit, provide affordable health care for the uninsured and provide security for seniors?
My family needs health care reform. My wife can never be uninsured because of a neurological disease. I will have to keep my current job for life because our plan is too small to qualify for COBRA. The insurance companies require me to wait 90 days before I am eligible for insurance at a new job, and after 63 days of no coverage they can decide to not cover a pre-existing condition. This crazy set of rules is not set up for hard-working people. Additionally, even with our current coverage our provider refuses to pay for a prescription drug the head of neurology at UAMS, the Cleveland Clinic and the foremost doctor of neuropathy in the country all say she needs. My provider is putting profits before people.
This could be Senator Lincoln's landmark moment, her chance to make history and be remembered as a true leader. Mattie Ross didn't let Cogburn and LeBouf stop her from seeking justice by tracking down the man who murdered her father. Senator Lincoln can't let teabaggers and special interests push her into supporting a filibuster, essentially toppling efforts for health care reform, leaving the people of Arkansas hurting, and the country's deficit increasing. We don't have to go back to Joe T. Robinson and Wilbur Mills to be reminded that Arkansans remember, admire and respect leadership, even when we may not always agree with that individual's personal actions. They showed true grit, standing up for what Arkansans and all Americans needed. We need Senator Lincoln's true grit now.
Brad Williams is executive director of the Argenta Community Development Corporation in North Little Rock. Max Brantley's column will return next week.