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Why It's Essential to Pass the Health Care Bill, Then Improve It

Progressives take heed: Killing a bill that could save thousands is not good politics; it's like stealing food from the mouths of hungry children.

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The Right understands this. That's why Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Congressmembers King and Issa, and others have been so persistent at attacking SEIU, ACORN, Van Jones, and others. They want to destroy the progressive movement and make it more difficult for Obama to be a successful (and two-term) president.

For example, the Right's persistent attack on ACORN over the past year and a half was effective. ACORN, with a strong constituency in Arkansas, was expected to play an important role in keeping the heat on Senator Blanche Lincoln, a moderate Democrat who seemed to be in bed with the insurance industry. ACORN did some effective grassroots organizing to hold Lincoln accountable, but it was weakened by the Right's attacks, and was so busy fighting for its own survival it couldn't mount the kind of full-court press on Lincoln that was needed.

The failure of many Democrats, even many liberal Democrats, as well as many liberal funders, to stand up for ACORN when it was under attack made it more difficult to pass health care reform, and to build the kind of progressive grassroots movement that is necessary to pass reform legislation. Their behavior is even more shameful in light of a new report, released this week by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, documenting that the various accusations against the group by Republicans and the right-wing media echo chamber -- especially about alleged "voter fraud" -- are totally bogus. Here are some of the report's key findings:

  • There were no instances of individuals who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees and who were reported "attempting to vote at the polls." Memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Judiciary Committee, "ACORN Investigations" (December 22, 2009), at 1.
  • As of October 2009, there have been 46 reported federal, state, and local investigations concerning ACORN, of which 11 are still pending. "ACORN Investigations," Table 1.
  • No instances were identified in which ACORN "violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years." "ACORN Investigations," at 1.
  • Recently enacted federal legislation to prohibit funding to ACORN raises significant constitutional concerns. The courts "may have a sufficient basis" to conclude that the legislation "violates the prohibition against bills of attainder." Congressional Research Service, "The Proposed 'Defund ACORN Act' and Related Legislation: Are They Bills of Attainder?" (November 30, 2009), at 25. [A recent court ruling did, in fact, find that the legislation violated the law.]
  • Concerning recent "sting" operations relating to ACORN, although state laws vary, two relevant states, Maryland and California, "appear to ban private recording of face-to-face conversations absent the consent of all the participants." Memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Judiciary, "Allegations of Recording Conversations with Various ACORN Affiliated Individuals without Their Consent" (October 9, 2009), at 1.

Peter Dreier, professor of politics at Occidental College, is coauthor of "The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City" and "Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century."