Commentary: DeMint, Graham let S.C. down on health care overhaul

Two South Carolina legislators had the opportunity to shape the historic health care bill President Obama signed into law on Tuesday in a way more of their constituents would have loved.

Because the Senate version of the bill was going to be the foundation of the law, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint were our only two politicians who could have forced even more conservative ideas into the legislation. Their influence grew in the wake of GOP Sen. Scott Brown's victory.

Neither did. Both shirked their responsibility to the state to walk lockstep with the GOP.

There was little reason to expect anything different from DeMint, who represents the party's Rush Limbaugh-wing. He didn't begin the debate saying we must find a way to bring down S.C.'s high percentage of the un- and underinsured.

He didn't say we must find a way to stem costs that are spiraling out of control, bankrupting hard-working people for the sin of getting too sick.

He didn't say the days of uninsured families having to leave coffee cans decorated with a sick loved one's photo on convenience store counters must end.

He didn't say that if reform included strong tort reform so doctors would no longer feel the need to perform unnecessary tests that he would vote for it.

Instead, he said reform's defeat would be Obama's "Waterloo", that it would break the president.

Only after his comments ignited a firestorm did DeMint propose a policy that most experts considered laughable.

He was focused on politics, not people.

Sen. Graham began the debate differently. He knew if nothing changed, our health care system would eventually bankrupt us, which is why he initially supported the bipartisan Bennett-Wyden bill. It would have dealt with the system's underlying problems by decoupling insurance from employment.

There's no reason to doubt he would have voted for that bill. But the proposal went nowhere fast. Instead of Graham engaging in the fight to incorporate the best parts of Wyden-Bennett - or any other effective plan - he fell in line with the rest of the GOP caucus.

He, too, became more concerned about his party's positioning for November than the people he was sent to Washington to represent, even as it grew obvious Obama was not going to allow comprehensive health reform to go down.

The most vulnerable South Carolinians - and there are a ton of them - need a system that doesn't only work well for those fortunate enough to afford it.

They needed Graham and DeMint to lead.

Those residents needed our senators to listen to them, not those who turned reform into an ideological purity test.

They didn't.

Instead, they stood for the petty and ignored the real needs of the people. History won't forget. And neither should we.