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REVEALED: The Democrats’ devious plan to compromise with the Republicans April 3, 2012

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In Monday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat explains the devious reasoning behind the Democrats’ adoption of the individual mandate: “It protected the Democratic bill on two fronts at once: buying off some of the most influential interest groups even as it hid the true cost of universal coverage.”

Clever! But I can’t help feeling like Ross is forgetting something. There was some other reason Democrats adopted this policy. I’m almost sure of it. If you give me a second, I’m sure it’ll come to me.

Ah, right! Because Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, was saying things like “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates,” and “individual mandates are more apt to be accepted by a majority of the people in Congress than an employer mandate.”

And it wasn’t just Grassley. A New York Times columnist by the name of Ross Douthat praised Utah Sen. Bob Bennett for “his willingness to co-sponsor a centrist (in a good way!) health care reform bill with the Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.” That health-care reform bill was the Healthy Americans Act which included, yes, an individual mandate. But while Douthat did later say that the Healthy Americans Act wasn’t his “preferred health care reform,” at no point did he accuse Bennett of “buying off some of the most influential interest groups” even as he “hid the true cost of universal coverage.”

The Healthy Americans Act, meanwhile, had been cosponsored by a bevy of heavy-hitting Senate Republicans, including Lamar Alexander, Mike Crapo, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, Norm Coleman and Trent Lott. And it’s not like they were off the reservation in some significant way: In 2007, both Sen. Jim DeMint and the National Review endorsed Mitt Romney, who had passed an individual mandate into law in Massachusetts. In their endorsements, both icons of conservatism specifically mentioned his health-care plan as a reason for their endorsement. DeMint, for instance, praised Romney’s health-care plan as “something that I think we should do for the whole country.”

Avik Roy points out that many liberals — including candidate Barack Obama — were historically skeptical of the individual mandate. And that’s true! There was a robust debate inside the party as to whether Democrats should move from proposing a government-centric health-care model to one Republicans had developed in order to preserve the centrality of “personal responsibility” and private health insurers. Many liberals opposed such a shift. But they lost to the factions in the party that wanted health-care reform to be a bipartisan endeavor.

Roy tries to use this to draw some equivalence between the two parties. Both Democrats and Republicans changed their mind on the individual mandate, he argues. But there’s a key difference: The Democrats changed their mind in order to secure a bipartisan compromise on health-care reform. Republicans changed their mind in order to prevent one.

And so what did Democrats get for their troubles? Well, the individual mandate is the least popular element of the health-care law. The entire Republican Party decided the individual mandate was an unconstitutional assault on freedom. And today, even relatively moderate Republicans like Douthat present the mandate as some kind of underhanded trick.

That’s politics, I guess. But ask yourself: If Obamacare is overturned, and Obama is defeated, who will win the Democratic Party’s next fight over health care? Probably not the folks counseling compromise. Too many Democrats have seen how that goes. How much easier to propose a bill that expands Medicaid eligibility to 300 percent of the poverty line, covers every child through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and makes Medicare availability to every American over age 50. Add in some high-risk pools, pay for the bill by slapping a surtax on rich Americans — indisputably constitutional, as even Randy Barnett will tell you — and you’ve covered most of the country’s uninsured. Oh, and you can pass the whole thing through the budget reconciliation process.

I don’t think that’s a particularly good future for the health-care system. And I doubt that bill will pass anytime soon. But, if Obamacare goes down, something like it will eventually be passed. And what will Republicans have to say about it? That no, this time, they really would have worked with the Democrats to reform America’s health-care system? Who will believe them?

Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012

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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from activist.thepen@gmail.com.  It describes the machinations of the California Democratic Party in appearing to support a single payer health insurance plan while at the same time behind the scenes doing everything it can to ensure that it DOESN’T come to pass.  In the seven years I spend on the Toronto municipal council, I saw this kind of hypocrisy in action time and time again.  What they did in California is a classical example of this tactic, and the pen activists captured it perfectly and are to be congratulated for the exposé.  And one more example of why electoral politics (as opposed to taking to the streets) is for the most part futile.

As you know, if you have been a participant of this distribution list for a while, we have been valiantly advocating for a single payer health care system for many years. Such a bill (SB 840) was passed by both chambers of the CA state legislature in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Maid Molester (Schwarzenegger).
At the time we TRIED to get the Democratic nominee Phil Angelides (who had previously claimed to support single payer) to do an action to demand that Arnold sign the bill. It would have been a great campaign issue for him, but he was too chicken hearted or corrupt himself (your choice) to do it, and he lost by 30 points or something like that.

The same bill passed in 2008 and was vetoed again.

Now fast forward the clock to last week, when single payer
(renumbered SB 810) was again in front of the CA Senate, but now with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who would be expected to sign the bill. All of a sudden four Democratic senators refused to even vote at all. That’s right, folks, they ABSTAINED, which is being in the room for the vote and refusing to cast a vote one way or another. At least three of these abstainers had voted “Yes” for single payer the last time.
So we cranked out a targeted action aimed only at these turncoat abstainers and have good information they got LOTS of phone calls for them to reconsider. But reconsideration never happened. So what’s really going on here? Here’s what the sponsor of the bill, Mark Leno, said on the Thom Hartmann show when gently challenged on why previous supporters were now abstaining.
“Arnold Schwartzeneggar was always going to veto the bill, so if one
had an interest in not ruffling the feathers of the insurance industry, the possibility is to vote for it with the wink of the eye that it’s not going anywhere anyway.”
In Greek mythology, Tantalus as his eternal punishment was cursed to stand in a pool of water underneath a fruit tree with low hanging branches always just out of reach, with the water always receding before he could take a drink. THAT is the very image of what the
Democratic party has become for the interests of the people who consider themselves constituents. It’s all a scam, folks, just one great, big, giant, honking scam.
This is essentially the same thing that happened in 2010 with that phony baloney health care bill, with a bottom line of nothing but pig grease for the medical insurance corporations. After lulling people
along for almost a year with the promise of a “public option”, itself a feeble impersonation of single payer, they refused to even allow a vote on it. In the end, having been forced to pass the bill using a reconciliation gimmick requiring only 51 votes, and 51 Democratic senators on record as supporting the so-called public option, they simply REFUSED to bring it up for a vote, even though they had the votes to do.
And the worst thing about it is that even the so-called good guys are in on it. Mark Leno, the sponsor of SB 810, KNOWS it will never pass, that the vote will always be manipulated so it falls just short in some way. The only reason for him to bring the bill up at all is to CON his own constituents into thinking he’s on their side, otherwise he would be vociferously calling out these abstainer traitors, not accidentally spilling the beans as he did. It’s nothing but a cynical PR stunt, and they are ALL in on it. No matter how many Democrats we vote for, till the end of all eternity, they will always find some way to fail to pass single payer health care.

One Montana County’s Medicare-for-All Coverage June 28, 2011

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Published on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 by OtherWords

As the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare, here’s a prescription to clean up the whole mess.

  by  Kay Tillow

Back when he presided over the Senate’s health care reform debate, Max Baucus, chairman of the all-powerful Senate Finance Committee, had said everything was on the table — except for single-payer universal health care. When doctors, nurses, and others rose in his hearing to insist that single payer be included in the debate, the Montana Democrat had them arrested. As more stood up, Baucus could be heard on his open microphone saying, “We need more police.”

Yet when Baucus needed a solution to a catastrophic health disaster in Libby, Montana and surrounding Lincoln County, he turned to the nation’s single-payer healthcare system, Medicare, to solve the problem.

You see, a vermiculite mine had spread deadly airborne asbestos that killed hundreds and sickened thousands in Libby and northwest Montana. W.R. Grace & Co., which owned the mine, denied its connection to the outbreaks of mesothelioma and asbestosis and dodged responsibility for this disaster. The federal government got stuck with most of the tab for the cleanup costs, and the EPA has issued a first-of-its-kind order declaring Lincoln County a public health disaster.

When all lawsuits and legal avenues failed, Baucus turned to Medicare.

The single-payer plan that Baucus kept off the table in 2009 is now very much on the table in Libby. It turns out that Baucus quietly inserted a section into the Affordable Care Act that covers the suffering people of Libby, Montana. Medicare covers the whole community, not just the former miners.

Residents of Libby don’t have to be 65 years old or more. They don’t have to wait until 2014 for the state exchanges. There’s no 10-year roll out for them — it’s immediate. They don’t have to purchase a plan — this isn’t a buy-in to Medicare. It’s free. They don’t have to be disabled for two years before they apply. They don’t have to go without care for three years until Medicaid expands. They don’t have to meet income tests. They don’t have to apply for a subsidy or pay a fine for failure to buy insurance. They don’t have to hope that the market will make a plan affordable or hide their pre-existing conditions. They don’t have to find a job that provides coverage.

Baucus simply inserted a clause into the health care reform law to make special arrangements for them in Medicare.

No one should begrudge the people of Lincoln County, where toxic mine waste was used as soil additives, home insulation, and even spread on the running tracks at local schools. Miners brought carcinogens home on their clothes.

“The people of Libby have been poisoned and have been dying for more than a decade,” Baucus explained in a New York Times interview. “New residents continue to get sick all the time. Public health tragedies like this could happen in any town in America. We need this type of mechanism to help people when they need it most.”

But health tragedies are happening in every American town. Over 51 million have no insurance. and over 45,000 uninsured people die needlessly each year. Employers are cutting coverage and dropping plans. States in economic crisis are slashing both Medicaid and their employees’ plans.

Nothing in Obama’s health care law will mitigate the skyrocketing costs. More than half of us, including tens of millions of insured Americans, now go without necessary care. As Baucus said of Medicare, “We need this mechanism to help people when they need it most.” We all need it now.

So as the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare and far too many Democrats use the deficit excuse to suggest other ways to tear the social safety net apart, Libby offers a prescription to clean up the whole mess. Only single-payer universal health care — improved Medicare for all — can save and protect Medicare, rein in skyrocketing health care costs, and give us universal coverage.

Medicare was implemented within less than a year of its 1965 passage. When Congress passes a national single-payer bill, we can all be enrolled in the twinkling of an eye.

A longer version of this commentary first appeared on Firedoglake.

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–>

Kay Tillow

Kay Tillow is the coordinator of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, which builds union support for H.R. 676. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. www.unionsforsinglepayer.org

Vt. Senate gives final nod to universal health care bill in 21-9 vote April 30, 2011

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Roger’s note:  I confess that I don’t understand the ins and outs of Obama’s Byzantine insurance industry dominated health care legislation, or how a Vermont single payer universal coverage plan can occur in that context.  As a Canadian, however, I cannot but think of Tommy Douglas.  Tommy Douglas was a clergyman and an unrepentant socialist who happened to be the Premier of the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan in the 1950s.  Against massive resistance and fears of economic collapse, he introduced universal health care into the province, which became the catalyst for its adoption by the entire country.  The domino theory at work.  Do Canadians value their system of single payer universal health insurance?   Would they support going back to private health care?  In 2004 the CBC polled Canadians on who what the greatest Canadian of all time.  Tommy Douglas won hands down.  We can only hope that what the governor and senate have now accomplished in Vermont will be more than symbolic, that it will introduce genuine universal coverage where no one is left unprotected and health care costs come under control through the limitation of windfall profits by private insurers.  Americans will then see what they are missing and demand single payer universal health care on a national basis.  I love what Dr. Richter said: You go for what you want, not for what you think you might get – that’s what the bill does.  Would that that great advocate of change you can believe in, Barack Obama, had had the courage to do just that instead of compromising the principled position of universal care from the very beginning of the congressional process.

by Anne Galloway | April 27, 2011

In a historic vote on Tuesday, the Vermont Legislature created the enabling legislation for a first-in-the-nation universal health care system. The state Senate approved the visionary plan for a single-payer system in a 21-9 vote after four hours of debate. The split was largely along party lines.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, campaigned on a promise to create a single-payer system in Vermont that would contain health care costs and give all of the state’s residents universal access to medical care. On Tuesday, Shumlin made good on the first step toward fulfilling that promise, and just five hours after the Senate vote, he marked the legislative victory in an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Shumlin said in a statement to the Vermont press: “Today the Legislature took a huge step toward making Vermont the first state in the first in the nation to control skyrocketing health care costs and remove the burden of providing health care coverage from small business owners. This bill is good for Vermonters and Vermont businesses.

Many Vermont businesses, however, believe otherwise. Though small employers have said they will benefit, some larger employers actively lobbied against the bill. Opponents of H.202 argued that the legislation would leave businesses in the lurch during the transition period between 2013 and 2014 when the state is required under federal law to participate in insurance exchanges. The opposition was led by insurance brokers (the Fleischer Jacobs Group, Business Resource Specialists), business associations (Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Grocers’ Association and Vermont Retailers Association), large employers (Dealer.com, Biotek, Rhino Foods and IBM). The Senate debate on Monday and Tuesday centered on changes to the legislation that would have made it more palatable to these groups.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R/D-Essex Orleans, who proposed two amendments that would have made the bill more business friendly, said companies are afraid “we will end up with a plan most won’t be able to afford.”

The legislation sets the state’s health care system on a new trajectory. Instead of continuing to use an insurance model for covering the cost of care, the bill moves the state toward an integrated payment system that would be controlled by a quasi judicial board and administered by a third party entity. The system would be funded through a broad-based tax.

The universal health care system would be implemented in 2014, if it clears 10 very high hurdles, including the receipt of a federal waiver. Otherwise it wouldn’t kick in until 2017.

Longtime single-payer advocate Dr. Deb Richter was ecstatic about the Senate passage of the bill.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Richter said. “It’s one of the best days of my life. I’ve given 400 speeches over the last 10 years and it feels like the work was worth it. We have a ways to go, but this is a step in the right direction.”

A universal health care system is the only way to cover everyone and contain costs, Richter said.

The passage of H.202 marks the first time any state in the country has attempted to provide universal care and a cost containment system that addresses administrative costs, hospital budgeting and uniform payments to doctors, Richter said.

Whether the federal government will give Vermont a waiver to adopt a universal health care system in 2014 is an open question. Richter said the state has a 50-50 chance of getting the exemption from the Affordable Care Act. Even so, she believes Vermont’s attempt to create a single-payer system is worthwhile.

“You go for what you want, not for what you think you might get – that’s what the bill does,” Richter said.

The Senate debate focused on the state’s implementation of the insurance exchanges that are required under federal law. The Affordable Care Act has mandated that states provide an actuarial value for insurance products (the insurance equivalent of a per unit price mechanism that allows consumers to compare the cost of on the shelf grocery items). The federal government has set up very general guidelines for the actuarial levels for insurance products insurers must provide under the exchange. The idea is to create an easy system for comparison between health insurance benefit plans that offer a dizzying array of deductibles, co-insurance, co-pays and premiums. The products, under the federal requirements, range from bronze (60 percent actuarial value) to silver (70 percent), gold (80 percent) and platinum (90 percent). It also puts minimum requirements on the “qualifying plans.” Many of these mandates are already in Vermont law. Insurers, for example, are not allowed to “cherry pick” consumers who are healthy and create pools without a cross-section of the sick and healthy populations.

Read this summary of the ACA requirements from Kaiser Foundation.

The Affordable Care Act requires individuals without insurance to buy into the exchange or face a $695 fine. Families of four with incomes of less than $88,700 qualify for tax credits. Businesses with more than 50 employees that do not buy insurance face a penalty of $2,000 per worker.

The fight between employers and proponents of H.202 was about the potential for mandatory inclusion of businesses that have between 50 and 100 workers in the exchange. Sens. Hinda Miller, D-Chittenden, and Illuzzi argued that requiring companies of that size to participate in the exchange could jeopardize their economic viability. Employers in that range tend not to self-insure and so are not protected under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The federal law allows states some flexibility. States can decide what benefit plan levels can be offered, for example. They can also determine the size of the businesses that must be included in the exchange. The Shumlin administration pushed for intent language in the bill that could have led to the inclusion of businesses with 50 to 100 employees into the exchange. Proponents of H.202 have said it’s important to include these 28,000 workers in the state’s insurance exchange in order to build toward a single-payer system.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, and approved by the Senate struck the intent language. The Green Mountain Care board, which will oversee the health care reform effort including the exchanges, is charged with producing a report that would outline the impact of excluding the 50-100 employee group on the exchange, which the Shumlin administration wants to use as a stepping stone toward the single-payer system.

Illuzzi proposed two amendments that would have forced the state to include a broader array of insurance carriers in the exchange, would have specifically allowed health savings accounts and high deductible plans under the exchange and would have allowed “nonqualified” plans outside the exchange. H.202 allows for two carriers.

“Let’s not kid ourselves it will be more than one carrier,” Illuzzi said on the Senate floor. “It will likely be Blue Cross Blue Shield. It will be two carriers in name only. Both will be required to offer same (plans). It will be a change without a difference.”

Anya Rader Wallack, Shumlin’s special assistant on health care, said she was impressed by the Legislature.

“A lot of people worked very hard educating themselves in a short period of time,” Wallack said. “This isn’t simple stuff. I was impressed with the amount of effort both bodies have put into this.”

The Shumlin administration was heavily involved in drafting the bill, H.202. By the time the legislation reached final passage it had changed somewhat from its original incarnation, which was based in part on recommendations from Professor William Hsiao, the renowned Harvard economist who created a single payer system for Taiwan.

Sen. Claire Ayer talks with Anya Rader Wallack and Robin Lunge before Monday's session. VTD/Josh LarkinSen. Claire Ayer talks with Anya Rader Wallack and Robin Lunge before Monday’s session. VTD/Josh Larkin

Over the next year, the Shumlin administration will hire a director of health care reform and the chair of a quasi-judicial board. The board would be in place by January 2012 and would begin the arduous task of sorting through the maze of federal laws, waivers, benefits, provider reimbursements, system financing and cost containment options.

H.202 will be read in the House Health Care Committee on Wednesday morning. Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, said he expects the bill will go to conference committee in several days. He expects to have no major beefs with the Senate version.

“The core composition of the bill remains identical to what passed in the House,” Larson said. “There are differences between the two bills but they are things we can work out.”

Larson said those details include a change in the dynamic of the board. “We want to make sure it’s an independent board.”

He also referred to the so-called “Mullin” amendment, which set conditions for implementation of Green Mountain Care, the single-payer style system that would be created under H.202. Larson said he thinks the new criteria for the implementation standards need to be more clearly defined.

“It has to be clear what hurdle has to be overcome,” Larson said.

Vermont House Passes Single-Payer Health Care Bill March 27, 2011

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(Roger’s note: Vermont’s state legislature taking this bold step brings to mind Canada’s revered Tommy Douglas, when his leadership led to the passing of a single payer plan in the Province of Saskatchewan in 1962.  This turned out to be the domino that that began the overwhelming popular drive for Canadian national health care, and which led to the passing of Canada’s single payer universal coverage national health plan.  But that was then and this is now.  Today in the United States the giant blood-sucking private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries virtually own a gutless president and the majority of legislators in both pathetic political parties.  This was evidenced in the debate that led to the passing of the Obama health legislation last year, a debate in which a public plan or single payer plan was off the table from the beginning; and where the Democratic members of the House who were considered the most progressive and principled caved in the end and supported legislation that enshrines the power of the health insurance industry.  Nevertheless, the Vermont action can very well be a first step towards setting an example for a health care plan that is single payer, universal and economic; which in turn can generate public opinion to put on the pressure in other jurisdictions.  That is, if the gigantic insurance and pharmaceutical industries don’t find a way to snuff the breath out of the Vermont initiative before it has a chance to come to life.)

Published on Friday, March 25, 2011 by the Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.)

by Chris Garofolo

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a single-payer system Thursday afternoon, putting the state on a path to become the first in the nation to adopt universal access to health care.

Lawmakers voted 92 to 49 after nearly two days of debate, including discussion on the floor until the early morning hours on Thursday.

Advocates hail the measure as the solution to control costs by reducing administrative overhead. However, critics said it leaves too much financial uncertainty and could hurt the economic growth in Vermont.

The legislation proposes to develop a unified health system where all Vermonters are eligible for benefits under a universal coverage program called Green Mountain Care. Democratic leaders are optimistic the single-payer plan will contain the skyrocketing costs of health care and put the state on a more sustainable fiscal path.

“I think that we all know, and there was universal agreement on the House floor, that the current system will bankrupt us. Costs of health care in Vermont are going up $1 million a day. They are $2 billion more than they were 10 years ago. We have a problem, we need to solve it,” said House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville. “This is just the first step in the process. This will be a long road ahead, and we have much work left to do. But we have taken a bold step forward today.”

The measure also designs a four-year timeframe to establish a publicly funded system, beginning with the creation of the Green Mountain Care Board on July 1 with a budget of $1.2 million. The five-member board will design a more sensible payment plan for health care providers, control the overall cost to align it closer to Vermonters’ ability to pay and recommend a benefit package for every resident.

However, the bill does not require the governor to propose a payment plan for the single-payer system until 2013, which sparked outcry from House Republicans. Paying for the reform is the most controversial portion of the bill and it will not be addressed until Gov. Peter Shumlin campaigns for his second term next year.

Shumlin, the first-term Democrat who made health care reform a cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign last year, said the House has moved Vermont in a historic direction toward fixing a broken system.

“This is a really important step for Vermont. If we want to create jobs, if we want to be the state that makes the difference in controlling health care costs so that we can grow jobs and economic opportunities … this is an extraordinary moment,” he said.

Thursday’s otherwise civil debate turned into a political war of words after Rep. Thomas Burditt, R-West Rutland, said promoting universal coverage is the “keystone in the arch of socialism,” drawing criticism from Democrats and independents supporting the measure.

“I take offense at the remarks … that we’re socialists, that we’re communists,” said Rep. Paul Poirier, I-Barre. “I ask all members to respect other people’s points of view.”

Cooler heads prevailed as lawmakers wrapped up the roll call vote shortly after 3 p.m. The legislation heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with some possible changes.

Republican critics called on Senate members to “correct the errors” on the bill, particularly the cost burdens on state government.

Opponents said it is not feasible to implement a single-payer system as a stand-alone, suggesting instead an amendment to protect self-insured employers in the state. GOP lawmakers pressured their Democratic counterparts to listen to the hundreds of small businessowners voicing concerns over self-insurance.

“Risk and uncertainty are two barriers to economic growth and this promise would help alleviate these concerns,” said Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica. “Self-insured businesses represent nearly 20 percent of all employers in Vermont, which is a large portion of our economy, and they are worried about how this bill will affect their ability to do business in Vermont.”

The amendment, proposed by Stowe Republican Heidi Scheuerman, was soundly defeated.

Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon, spoke from the floor about his issues with the uncertain cost of such a health care network.

“I have a tremendous number of questions. And I’m not in opposition to health care finance reform, I’m just in opposition of us going down a road where we don’t know what it costs,” he said. “There are just so many unanswered questions and I’m really concerned with this five-member board. They’re going to have the authority to rule on every aspect of our health care in the state of Vermont.”

Meanwhile, Democrats hailed the swift-moving bill as a vote for hope and not fear. Supporters hugged outside the House chamber following the passage, a sense of pride on their faces as they praised the landmark health care measure.

“Today, Vermont’s House of Representatives showed America our small state has both the courage and conviction to lead the way nationwide on the creation of a unified single-payer health care system,” said Rep. Valerie Stuart, D-Brattleboro. “I thank the members of the [House Health Care] committee that created this piece of legislation with all my heart.”

The benefits under Green Mountain Care would not take effect until after Vermont receives a federal waiver under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. By 2014, the bill established a health care exchange as required by federal law.

The Health Insurance Industry’s Vendetta Against Michael Moore November 25, 2010

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Published on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 by TruthDig.comby Amy Goodman

Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, makes great movies but they are not generally considered “cliff-hangers.” All that might change since a whistle-blower on the “Democracy Now!” news hour revealed that health insurance executives thought they may have to implement a plan “to push Moore off a cliff.” The whistle-blower: Wendell Potter, the former chief spokesman for health insurance giant Cigna. He was quoting from an industry strategy session on how to respond to Moore’s 2007 documentary “Sicko,” a film critical of the U.S. health insurance industry. Potter told me that he is not sure how serious the threat was but he added, ominously, “These companies play to win.”

Moore won an Oscar in 2002 for his film about gun violence, “Bowling for Columbine.” He followed that with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a documentary on the presidency of George W. Bush that became the top-grossing documentary film in U.S. history. So when Moore told a reporter that his next film would be about the U.S. health care system, the insurance industry took notice.

AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans), the major lobbying group of the for-profit health insurance corporations, secretly sent someone to the world premiere of “Sicko” at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Its agent rushed from the screening to a conference call with industry executives, including Potter. “We were very scared,” Potter said, “and we knew that we would have to develop a very sophisticated and expensive campaign to turn people away from the idea of universal care. … We were told by our pollsters [that] a majority of people were in favor of much greater government involvement in our health care system.”

AHIP hired a public-relations firm, APCO Worldwide, founded by the powerful law firm Arnold & Porter, to coordinate the response. APCO formed the fake grass-roots consumer group “Health Care America” to counter the expected popularity of Moore’s “Sicko” and to promote fear of “government run health care.”

Potter writes in his new book, “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans,” that he “found the film very moving and very effective in its condemnation of the practices of private health insurance companies. There were many times when I had to fight to hold back tears. Moore had gotten it right.”

The insurance industry declared its campaign against “Sicko” a resounding success. Potter wrote, “AHIP and APCO Worldwide had succeeded in getting their talking points into most of the stories about the movie, and not a single reporter had done enough investigative work to find out that insurers had provided the lion’s share of funding to set up Health Care America.” Indeed, everyone from CNN to USA Today cited Health Care America as if it were a legitimate group.

Moore concedes, “Their smear campaign was effective and did create the dent they were hoping for-single payer and the public option never even made it into the real discussion on the floor of Congress.”

Moore has called Potter the “Daniel Ellsberg of corporate America,” invoking the famous Pentagon whistle-blower whose revelations helped end the Vietnam War. Potter’s courageous stand made an impact on the debate, but the insurance industry, the hospitals and the American Medical Association prevailed in blunting the elements of the plan that threatened their profits.

A recent Harvard Medical School study found that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year-one every 12 minutes-largely because they lack health insurance. But for the insurance lobby, the only tragedy is the prospect of true health care reform. In 2009, the nation’s largest health insurance corporations funneled more than $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health care reform. This year, the nation’s five largest insurers contributed three times as much money to Republican candidates as to Democrats, in an effort to further roll back insurance industry reform. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., an advocate of single payer health care, declared in Congress that “the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.” Potter agrees, saying the Republican Party has “been almost bought and paid for.”

The health insurance industry is getting its money’s worth. Moore said that the industry was willing to attack his film because it was afraid it “could trigger a populist uprising against a sick system that will allow companies to profit off of us when we fall ill.” Now that is truly sick.  


Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Attorneys General in 14 States Sue to Block Health Care Reform Law March 24, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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(Roger’s note: it gets curiouser and curiouser.  Republican state Attorneys General, who couldn’t give a damn about the Constitution and just want to make mischief for the Democrats, have inadvertently hit the nail on the head.  They are questioning the government’s authority to force its citizens and residents to purchase a product, which in this instance is private health insurance, and which is universally considered to be a defective product.  Talk about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.  It brings into relief this absurd strategy to reform health care in the US by creating a private monopoly instead of doing the logical thing, which is a public monopoly, which is what you find in Canada and most of Europe.  And it all has to do with the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries virtually owning the presidency and the Congress.  US democracy in action.  What should Obama have done?  He should have from the beginning put forward a single-payer, medicare-for-all proposal, fought for it with all his eloquence and popularity, and then if it failed it would be on the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who would have killed it.)

Tuesday 23 March 2010

by: Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor
 

 

Miami – A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Florida includes 13 states and charges that the new healthcare reform law in unconstitutional. Virginia’s attorney general filed a separate lawsuit.

State attorneys general wasted no time filing legal challenges to President Obama’s healthcare reform law, swinging into action with legal filings in Florida and Virginia within minutes of the White House signing ceremony on Tuesday.

In Tallahassee, Fla., 12 attorneys general joined Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in a 22-page complaint filed in federal court, charging that the new healthcare reform package exceeds Congress’s powers to regulate commerce, violates 10th Amendment protections of state sovereignty, and imposes an unconstitutional direct tax.

“This lawsuit should put the federal government on notice that Florida will not permit the constitutional rights of our citizens and the sovereignty of our state to be ignored or disregarded,” Attorney General McCollum said.

A Second Suit in Virginia

Virginia filed a similar lawsuit simultaneously in federal court in Richmond. That suit is slightly different in that it focuses in part on the clash between a recently enacted state law protecting the right of Virginia residents to refuse unwanted health insurance and the new federal law that imposes penalties on anyone who seeks to defy the national government’s command to purchase health insurance.

“Congress lacks the political will to fund comprehensive health care … because taxes above those already provided [in federal healthcare programs] would produce too much opposition,” the Virginia lawsuit says.

“The alternative, which was also a centerpiece of the failed Clinton administration health care proposal, is to fund universal health care in part by making healthy young adults and other rationally uninsured individuals cross-subsidize older and less healthy citizens,” the suit says.

The seven-page lawsuit presents a straightforward challenge to Congress’s decision to rely on its power to regulate interstate commerce to justify the federal mandate that every individual must have health insurance or pay a penalty.

“It has never been held that the Commerce Clause [of the Constitution] … can be used to require citizens to buy goods and services,” the suit says. “To depart from that history to permit the national government to require the purchase of goods and services would deprive the Commerce Clause of any effective limits.”

Aiming for the US Supreme Court

At a press conference in Florida, McCollum said his lawsuit is intended to move through the courts to the US Supreme Court. “I am confident the court is going to declare the new healthcare law unconstitutional,” he said.

Democratic leaders have downplayed any potential legal problems with the healthcare reform package. Many legal analysts agree with them. Others suggest the issue is open and could produce a landmark decision if the high court decides to take it up.

In addition to Florida, participating plaintiffs in the lawsuit include attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Idaho, and South Dakota. The suing attorneys general are Republicans except James “Buddy” Caldwell of Louisiana, who is a Democrat.

The Florida-filed lawsuit identifies two victims. It says the new law infringes the liberty of individual state residents to choose for themselves whether to have health insurance. It also says the states themselves are victims of a federal power grab by leaders in Washington.

Worries About Bigger Medicaid Rolls

The new structure of the Medicaid portion of the healthcare bill – which deals with low-income Americans – leaves Florida with an offer it can’t refuse. The state can either opt out of Medicaid and leave millions of its most vulnerable residents uninsured, or opt in and surrender its authority to set priorities and run programs to an increasingly powerful national government.

Currently, Medicaid costs account for 26 percent of Florida’s annual budget. That is $18 billion for 2.7 million Medicaid recipients.

The suit says that, under the new law, Medicaid rolls in Florida are expected to increase dramatically. The corresponding soaring costs will fall increasingly on the Florida treasury, but state officials will have less authority to set priorities.

“[Florida] employees will be conscripted and forced to administer what now is essentially a federal Medicaid program for which Florida must bear a substantial cost,” the suit says.

Estimates are that the new law will impose additional costs on Florida ranging from $149 million in 2014 to more than a $1 billion by 2019.

The lawsuit says this amounts to an unconstitutional exercise of federal power that violates principles of federalism protected in the 10th Amendment. It says the healthcare reform bill commandeers the states and their employees as agents of the federal government’s regulatory scheme, and that it does so at the state’s own cost.

Another Beef: An Unconstitutional Direct Tax

The suit also says the tax penalty for noncompliance with the individual mandate to buy health insurance “constitutes a capitation and a direct tax that is not apportioned among the states according to census data, thereby injuring the sovereign interests of [the states].”

The tax penalty is unrelated to any taxable event or activity, the suit says. “It is to be levied upon persons for their failure or refusal to do anything other than to exist and reside in the United States,” the suit says.

This doesn’t just injure individuals who have a right to make healthcare decisions without government inference, the suit says. It also injures state governments who are forced to pay for the higher number of individuals coerced into enrolling in Medicaid.

Like the Virginia lawsuit, the Florida-filed suit also argues that Congress does not have the authority under the US Constitution to compel citizens to buy health insurance or punish them if they do not. An individual’s choice not to have health insurance is not “commerce” and thus does not fall within Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, the suit says.

A Third Lawsuit, in Michigan

In addition to the two state lawsuits, the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., filed a lawsuit in Michigan. It is filed on behalf of four individuals in southeastern Michigan who object to being forced to purchase healthcare coverage and who object to being forced to pay for abortions, contrary to their religious beliefs.

“Our Founding Fathers envisioned a limited form of government. The purpose of our Constitution and this lawsuit is to insure that it stays that way,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the law center, in a statement.

“Let’s face it, if Congress has the power to force individuals to purchase health insurance coverage or pay a federal penalty merely because they live in America, then it has the unconstrained power to mandate that every American family buy a General Motors vehicle to help the economy or pay a federal penalty.” 

Supporting Obama’s Health Bill: Lesser of Evils or Pact with the Devil? March 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About Health, Health.
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No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. [37] And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. [38] No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.

Luke 5: 37-39

Roger Hollander, March 23, 2010

www.rogerhollander.com

The health industry stocks shot up once the bill passed.  More than anything else that tells us who stands to benefit.

What I find so frustrating is the notion, prevalent amongst Obama’s supporters, that by adding a few new benefits (some of which may or may not happen) to a totally corrupt system, somehow you have moved forward.  The Obamites badly needed a political victory, and they were willing to sell out not only their “progressive base,” as many have mentioned, but the vast majority of Americans who want, need and deserve a single-payer national plan.  Not to mention the roll back on a woman’s right to choose and such things as cruel, costly and stupid restrictions on undocumented immigrants buying health insurance.  

Perhaps the biggest irony is that the Republicans are attacking the bill as “socialistic” when in fact it is just the opposite.  The Republicans are making the right criticism (the government forcing people to buy private insurance, something that actually is right up their alley) for the wrong reason (trash the Democrats regardless of the issue).  Inwardly they are rejoicing at the bill’s entrenchment of private insurance with no public option while outwardly they are indignant at the “socialist” imposition of health insurance.  A win-win situation for them.

The Democrats might as well have put in a single-payer plan, which of course they didn’t not because they chose the wrong strategy, but because they just as much as the Republicans are owned by the corporate insurance and pharmaceutical industries. 

But it is the facile notion that a few crumbs are better than nothing that is staggering in its naïveté and its failure to realize that you do not pour new wine into old wineskins, that in so doing you may (may!) make some small gains at the cost of the ultimate objective.

To those who acknowledge that a single-payer, medicare-for-all plan is the only genuine solution, but that sometimes you have to settle for the lesser of evils, I suggest that there is a difference between the lesser of evils and a Faustian bargain with the Devil.

Do Not Resuscitate the ‘Public Option’ February 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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(Roger’s note: I have been inundated of late with passionate e-mail pleas from liberal and progressive Democratic Party web sites, urging me to join the bandwagon pushing for the so-called “public option.”  Senators who signed on to a petition to add the public option are being hailed as heroes, and we are being urged to contribute to the campaigns of those who are facing opposition because of their stand.  While it is pathetic that so many are willing to consider a few crumbs falling off the table as a political victory, it has further been argued forcefully that the current health form legislation, as it has been passed by both houses of congress, constitutes a disaster for genuine reform with our without the token public option that is being proposed.  I am convinced that in order to support genuine health care reform [i.e. some form of single-payer universal coverage], the current legislation in whatever form the appeaser Obama and the bought-and-paid-for Congress come up with should be opposed, and it should fail.  The reason for this is that this legislation will further entrench the blood-sucking health insurance industry under the guise of reform.  It will set back the cause of single-payer health care for decades or longer.  When will we learn that the kind of pragmatism practiced by Obama under the influence of Rahm Emanuel is self defeating and only feeds in the long run into the agenda of the neo-fascist right?)

Published on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Andy Coates

Like initiating CPR on a patient who was dead in the field and remained dead on arrival, the effort to resuscitate the “public option” is mistaken and futile.

Once upon a time, proponents of the “public plan option” sought a “Medicare-like” program that might enroll every other person in the nation and thus run private insurers out of business.

“A roadblock to reform” cried the insurance companies. In turn, nothing in the bills passed by the House and the Senate would erect a public insurer that could possibly influence the insurance market.

The House bill included a feeble government plan, to start in 2013, that would enroll perhaps 2 percent of the nation by 2019. The Senate bill simply nixed the idea altogether. Now the President, in his latest proposal, has also abandoned the “public option.”

In reality the “public option” was never much more than a K-street phrase, a shadow-puppet, a political posture. All along proponents of adding a new government-sponsored insurer boasted “talking points” but never offered workable health reform.

But the insurance companies oppose the “public option” and that proves its virtue, its supporters exclaim.

Hello? Of course the insurers oppose it.

Why would the insurers want to yield even 2 percent of the market to a public plan (House bill) when they’ve been given the “option” (Senate bill) of keeping 100 percent of the market? Why would the insurance companies not fight for the whole pie when the White House let slip that it saw the “public option” as simply a bargaining chip in private dealmaking?

But there is something else here.

With its reliance on the magic of the marketplace, the “public option” is simply not a proposal for reform. In fact, it has already been tried, and failed: in Maine, a “public option” insurer known as DirigoChoice, was established in 2003. It has failed to enroll but a tiny percent of the uninsured, did nothing to reduce the costs of insurance or health care, nor did it reduced overall health spending, nor did disparities in care improve – and in the last year DirigoChoice has fatally tanked.

In the United States a corporate oligopoly of huge insurers, with near-monopoly control in most locales, dominate the market. A government insurer of any size would simply add yet another bureaucracy to the present byzantine insurance mess.

Does it really make any sense to think that a government plan could give the private insurance companies a run for their money – within the contemporary corporate marketplace – without draconian regulation upon the industry? Even with regulation, as former Cigna executive Wendell Potter explained at the PNHP annual meeting this year, insurance companies simply “flaunt regulations.”

The insurance market cannot be tricked into reforming itself. The health insurance company that wins at the marketplace avoids and jettisons sick and poor patients and enrolls the healthy and the wealthy – and a “public option” will not change this fact. The market that serves the private interests – profiteering at the expense of the sick – would continue to do so.

The proper name for this kind of “market magic” is the race to the bottom. Adding a public plan into the private mix can not and will not change the character of this cruel game.

Any successful “public option” insurance plan would wind up covering the sick and the poor. It would be designed to lose, not win, the market competition. It would not prove affordable or comprehensive. Worst of all, a highly successful “public plan option” could put our nation on a fast-track to permanent two-tiered health services, exacerbating deplorable disparities that plague us.

Regrettably, that the “public option” has been given attention at all is but a measure of how deeply our culture has surrendered to neoliberal ideology, the ideas popularized by Ronald Reagan. It is a lie that the market will always provide, most especially when it comes to health care. So why would some of our friends still seek to revive the false promise of the “public option”?

Marie Gottschalk, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Political Science, identified the psychology at work. In a remarkably prescient essay written in late 2009, she compared health reformers in the United States to victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostages identify with – and even defend – the hostage-takers.

We ought to reach out with sympathy to our friends who have fallen captive to Ronald Reagan ideology and say: Do not resuscitate the “public option.” It is time to let it go.

All along, adding a feeble public insurance plan to the insurance market has been but a very poor excuse to support “insurance reform” that will criminalize the uninsured, divert billions of tax dollars to subsidize unaffordable private insurance premiums and protect pharmaceutical industry super-profits.

Another world is still possible. It is called Medicare-for-all, expanded and improved.

Andrew D. Coates, MD is a leader of Physicians for a National Health Program and the grassroots coalition Single Payer New York. (An earlier version of this essay appeared at The Progressive Media Project in December.)

Obama Finally Gets His Victory For Bipartisanship January 20, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Health, War.
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(Roger’s note: I was attracted by the title of this article, but the author misses the point.  He saw the light on “on the sixth day of Obama’s presidency,” but it was evident when Obama was in his cradle in Hawaii [if that is indeed where he was born ... just kidding, I'm not a birther!].  Obama’s thinking was accurate: we do have a one-party system, the Republicrats.  Obama could not have taken any position other than what he has taken, be it the economy, the continuance of warfare, or health reform.  Both he and the Congress are bought lock, stock and barrel by the corporate and military giants that benefit by his failure to control Wall Street, end the wars, or institute genuine health reform [i.e., some form of single-payer].  In our one party system elections are not won, they are lost.  The party out of power is always the party of the people, fighting for truth and justice.  The party in power does the dirty work for the military-industrial complex while lining its pocket, saving for that inevitable rainy day when it will be turfed by an angry electorate; and knowing that it’s day will come again when the new government party takes its turn to lose elections after keeping capitalism’s home fires burning.  The anarchists [and I am not one by the way] have a point with their saying: “I don’t vote because the government always wins.”)
Published on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 by Huffington Postby Drew Westen

You can blame a bad candidate, bad organization, bad timing of a vacation–choose your rationalization. But the reality is that voters in Massachusetts were reacting to the same foul mist coming off Boston Harbor that New Jersey Voters smelled coming off the Hudson and Virginia voters, the Chesapeake.

What they all understood was that the source lay on the shores of the Potomac.

It is a truly remarkable feat, in just one year’s time, to turn the fear and anger voters felt in 2006 and 2008 at a Republican Party that had destroyed the economy, redistributed massive amounts of wealth from the middle class to the richest of the rich and the biggest of big businesses, and waged a trillion-dollar war in the wrong country, into populist rage at whatever Democrat voters can cast their ballot against.

All of this was completely predictable. And it was predicted. I wrote about it for the first time here on the sixth day of Obama’s presidency, and many of us have written about it in the intervening year.

The President’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge that we have a two-party system, his insistence on making destructive concessions to the same party voters had sent packing twice in a row in the name of “bipartisanship,” and his refusal ever to utter the words “I am a Democrat” and to articulate what that means, are not among his virtues. We have competing ideas in a democracy–and hence competing parties–for a reason. To paper them over and pretend they do not exist, particularly when the ideology of one of the parties has proven so devastating to the lives of everyday Americans, is not a virtue. It is an abdication of responsibility.

What happens if you refuse to lay the blame for the destruction of our economy on anyone–particularly the party, leaders, and ideology that were in power for the last 8 years and were responsible for it? What happens if you fail to “brand” what has happened as the Bush Depression or the Republican Depression or the natural result of the ideology of unregulated greed, the way FDR branded the Great Depression as Hoover’s Depression and created a Democratic majority for 50 years and a new vision of what effective government can do? What happens when you fail to offer and continually reinforce a narrative about what has happened, who caused it, and how you’re going to fix it that Americans understand, that makes them angry, that makes them hopeful, and that makes them committed to you and your policies during the tough times that will inevitably lie ahead?

The answer was obvious a year ago, and it is even more obvious today: Voters will come to blame you for not having solved a problem you didn’t create, and you will allow the other side to create an alternative narrative for what’s happened (government spending , deficits, big government, socialism) that will stick. And it will particularly stick if you make no efforts to prevent it from starting or sticking.

Were Massachusetts voters reacting in part to the health care debate turned debacle? Sure. In a misguided effort to avoid the mistakes of 1993, the President decided that leadership on health care wasn’t in his job description and encouraged the Democrats to make their sausage in public, after making his own deals with the same people who brought us pre-existing conditions and $150 prescriptions (and that’s with insurance). He promised transparency, and he gave the country a huge dose of it. Unfortunately, what was transparent turned people’s stomachs.

The White House allowed the health care narrative to be all about process, and the process the American people saw wasn’t pretty. It scared seniors, who worried what would happen to their Medicare. It scared workers, who worried about what would happen to the plans their unions had negotiated so hard for in lieu of salaries. It scared middle class Americans with good health insurance plans, who had–and have–no idea whether their plans will be deemed–if not today, in three or four years–Cadillacs, which will first be taxed and then discontinued, leaving them with exactly what Frank Luntz told them it would leave them with: a bureaucrat between them and their doctor. And worst of all, it seemed to most Americans that the reason they were being asked to make such potentially big sacrifices was so that health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and millionaires wouldn’t have to. It seemed not only risky but unfair.

So in that sense, the story of health insurance played right into the story that lies behind the looming tsunami that swept away Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat and will sweep away so many more Democratic seats if the Democrats draw the wrong conclusions from this election. The White House just couldn’t seem to “get” that the American people could see that they were constantly coming down on the side of the same bankers who were foreclosing people’s homes and shutting off the credit to small business owners, when they should have been helping the people whose homes were being foreclosed and the small businesses that were trying to stay afloat because of the recklessness of banks that were now starving them. Americans were tired of hearing Obama “exhort” bankers and speculators to play nice as they collected their record bonuses for a heckuva job in 2009. It took him a year to float the idea of making them pay for a fraction of the damage they had done, and at this point, few Americans have any faith that a tax on big banks will ever become law or that the costs won’t just be passed on to them in new fees.

The White House has squandered the greatest opportunity to change both the country and the political landscape since Ronald Reagan. It should have started with a non-watered-down stimulus package big enough to stop the bleeding in the job market–and a smack-down of any Republican who dared to utter the word “deficit” after 8 years of reckless, unpaid Republican spending. It should have followed with stringent regulations on Wall Street and protection of homeowners and small businesses instead of with a jobs creation program inside the administration for failed bankers and failed regulators. A stimulus–including a jobs program–strong enough to prevent the hemorrhaging of 700,000 jobs a month and a muscular approach to the bad actors who had crashed the economy would have gotten the public firmly behind the President and the Democrats, demonstrating to the average voter that they have a choice between one party that’s on their side and another that’s not. Instead, the White House just blurred the lines between the parties so the average American couldn’t tell the difference.

With all its efforts to tack to the center, the White House missed the point. The issue isn’t about right or left. It’s about whose side you’re on. In Massachusetts, the voters believe they know. It’s now up to the President and his party to convince the American people otherwise.

© 2010 Huffington Post

Drew Westen, Ph.D. is a clinical, personality, and political psychologist and neuroscientist, and Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University.
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