Affordable Care Act Deserves Attention While Congress Loafs (or Plots)

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, public radio journalist Cheryl Devall urges attention to the Affordable Care Act.

A recent newscast reminding me that Congress was off for its five-week summer Capitolbreak prompted me to sigh over the kitchen sink, perhaps like many a wage-earner sighed. In the world’s biggest economy, five entire weeks off the job is a luxury only lawmakers and the super-wealthy can enjoy.

Most folks with jobs in this country are lucky to land one paid week’s vacation, two at most, not to mention paid sick leave and holidays. On behalf of those hard-working people, elected representatives might want to think hard about the way they plan to spend this recess. The loyal opposition has ordered its troops to use their time strategizing and rallying constituents against the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Republicans’ directive reminds me of a pivotal moment right after the unexpected death of Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, on Thanksgiving eve 1987. As Chicagoans absorbed the shock and the mayor’s staff scrambled to arrange the equivalent of a state funeral, Washington’s adversaries spent the holiday weekend plotting to resume political business as usual as quickly as possible.

By the time people who’d loved Harold had dried their eyes, the fix was in. The opposition had effectively applied Mother Jones’ admonition, “Don’t mourn, organize,” for its benefit. In the next weeks, similar activities among U.S. House Republicans could help to derail this nation’s most vigorous effort toward healthcare equality – toward delivering people from the worry that a medical crisis may lead to financial ruin.

Seems to me that those who want to preserve Obamacare would do well to exchange time in their summer havens for a spell at the barricades. They might want to work on bolstering public opinion and deflecting attacks on the United States’ opportunity to join the rest of the industrialized world in making healthcare as much of a human right as generous paid vacation time.

Journalists can take advantage of the often-quiet month of August to re-introduce audiences to their neighbors of all colors whose lives could change for the better or worse with the Affordable Care Act.

We don’t have to look far. It’s a good guess that someone at next weekend’s barbecue, down the street or in the supermarket checkout stand (possibly at the cash register) has an affecting and illustrative story to tell.

That kind of journalism could help set the stage for an informed and lively national debate as summer recedes and representatives return to Capitol Hill.

The writer is a veteran public radio journalist who lives in Los Angeles.

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