Michael Steele, the hapless chairman of the Republican National Committee, was asked a while back by Fox News how he would stop health care reform. "I will be the cow on the track," he answered. Steele believed that President Obama’s historic effort to end the ongoing abuses of the insurance industry could be stopped even after it had passed both the House and the Senate. As a video posted on DailyKos website makes clear, cows can’t stop trains. Yet this hasn’t stopped Republican officials all across the country from stepping up to be cows on the track now that health care reform has been signed into law.

Republicans are playing political games as the U.S. Senate considers legislation that would make important fixes in the historic health care reform legislation President Obama signed this week. The reconciliation bill would make health coverage more affordable for seniors and the middle class, and dramatically lessen the burden of an excise tax on working families. Now, Republicans are trying to block passage of those important improvements. They have no shame.

They are introducing amendments that serve no purpose except to derail the fix. Let’s be clear. The Senate should reject every amendment that is introduced to this important corrective legislation. Changes in the proposed law, except those mandated under the rules of the Senate, serve no purpose except to delay the implementation of health care overhaul. Amendments to the reconciliation bill are simply "poison pills," designed to sabotage health care reform. They are tricks concocted by Republicans. They are cows on the track.

There will be more than enough time in the years ahead to address changes and make improvements in the health care law. This week is not the time to do it. My friend Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, was right when he called on senators to vote no on amendments, even on issues that we would otherwise strongly support. "Republicans are going to use a "kitchen sink" amendment strategy, throwing everything they can at the bill to try to sink reform," Rich notes. "Working families won’t be fooled by dirty tricks from the opponents of health reform out to do the bidding of the insurance companies. And U.S. senators should not be fooled either."

When we started our work on health care reform three years ago, we set our sights high. But we knew that the final legislation would not include everything we wanted. But this is not new. Major social justice reforms are never achieved in one fell swoop. When the 1957 Civil Rights Act was signed into law, it fell short of what was needed to bring about equal rights. It failed to include key protections like voting rights and access to public places. But it was a start. And it laid the groundwork for future laws that made more progress. Originally, both Social Security and Medicare excluded public sector workers. But over time that has been rectified. The same will be true for health care reform. These bills achieve enormous good and they lay a strong foundation for us to build on.

I was pleased to hear that some supporters of changes in health care reform have decided not to push amendments to the reconciliation bill.

Senator Michael Bennet, one of the Senate’s great supporters of the public option, writes that "the bill before the Senate this week is far too important to use as a political football. This bill would close the senior prescription drug coverage loophole that most people know as the ‘donut hole.’ It would remove the special political deals, like the ‘cornhusker kickback.’ It would further reduce the deficit up to $1.2 trillion over the next two decades and cover even more Americans, bringing the total to 32 million Americans."

Bennet correctly notes: "This will not happen if the political games continue. That is why public option supporters, including many organizations that have been on the frontline of the fight with me, are urging a vote on the reconciliation bill, without any amendments."

What we have now is a law that does enormous good for millions of American families by making health care a right for the first time in our history. And it turns out Americans like that idea.

Senate Republicans aren’t the only cows moving onto the track. Just yesterday, Republican attorneys general in more than a dozen states announced that they would challenge the constitutionality of the new law’s requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a little extra on their federal income taxes. These Republican officials are a disgrace. Every citizen of their respective states is required to buy car insurance before they can drive the car out of the lot. Is that unconstitutional? Of course not. I thought the GOP opposed frivolous lawsuits, but apparently they don’t when they are trying to be cows on the track. What they are doing is wasting taxpayer money to score political points with the extreme and irrational voices that now dominate the Republican Party.

Some prominent Republicans understand that those in their party who have taken extreme positions in opposition to health care reform have done a disservice to our country. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum describes it this way: "It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. We followed the most radical voices in the party, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat." When will others in his party recognize that Americans want Republicans and Democrats to work together with President Obama to lead this country forward? When will they stop acting like cows on the track?

Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.