It’s long been in vogue amongst Seattle’s politiscenti to complain about Rep. Jim McDermott’s lack of effectiveness and leadership in Congress.
Of course, what they really mean is that McDermott doesn’t bring home the bacon, and he’s never much bothered to use his safe seat and affluent Seattle district to raise—and spread around—the kinda money generally necessary to climb up the ranks of the party leadership. No, McDermott often marches to the beat of his own drummer, and he’s certainly no Norm Dicks or Patty Murray when it comes to playing the influence game.
But lack of effectiveness and leadership? I don’t think so. And apparently, neither do his colleagues in the House, who have rewarded his tireless work on behalf of expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by giving him the honor of managing the floor time today during final passage of the bill, and who have asked him to attend the signing ceremony with President Obama later this afternoon at the White House.
Beholden to no one but his own conscience and that of his overwhelmingly liberal constituency, McDermott has provided plenty of leadership on a number of issues, often with little regard for the likelihood of public approbation or short term success. It was McDermott who famously invited national scorn on himself by going to Baghdad in the days prior to the US invasion to argue against the lies of the Bush administration, and it was McDermott who was ultimately proven right about the facts on the ground and the war’s disastrous cost in blood, treasure and prestige.
And it is McDermott who has qixotically fought for universal health care even as the Republican tide made such reforms an impossible dream.
Well… as today’s passage of SCHIP will show, that tide has finally turned.
At the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer, I asked the 72-year-old McDermott about persistent rumors (and wishful thinking amongst the many local Dems who covet his job) that this might be his last term in office, and he laughed off the suggestion, telling me that he intends to stay in Congress at least until he sees a major health care reform package signed by the President. It may not be the single payer system that he prefers, but considering where the other Washington has been on this issue for much of his tenure, any reform that leads us down the slippery path toward universal access would be a huge accomplishment, and a giant cherry on top of McDermott’s long political career.
So those of you ambitious pols eagerly waiting for McDermott to step out of your way (and you know who you are), you better cross your fingers and wish Jim Godspeed on his final challenge.
Rep. McDermott has issued the following statement on SCHIP:
“We speak for the children who are the most vulnerable in our society, especially during this time of economic crisis. I cannot imagine how anyone could vote against America’s children. Approving SCHIP is the most humane thing to do and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. Yet, some on the other side will vote against it claiming they are fiscal conservatives; please note these very same so-called fiscal conservatives squandered a trillion dollars on a needless war in Iraq, and drove the U.S. economy into a ditch. And now they want to deny children the ability to go see a doctor when they are sick.”