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Single Payer vs. Public Option June 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Sunday, June 14, 2009 by Single Payer Action by Russell Mokhiber

Nick Skala was in a bit of shock.

In early June, he was invited to speak before the Progressive Caucus of the House of Representatives about single payer health care.

There are about 71 members of the House who belong to the Progressive Caucus — about a third of the Democratic Caucus.

Skala is a true believer in single payer — having spent four years with Physicians for a National Health Program.

So, yes of course, he would love to speak before the Progressive Caucus to explain why single payer was the only way to control costs and cover everyone.

And that Obama’s public option was bound to fail.

He sent his presentation ahead of time to Bill Goold, the executive director of the Progressive Caucus, and Darcy Burner, executive director of the American Progressive Caucus Foundation.

Both were not pleased with Skala.

“Bill Gould emailed me after reading my testimony and materials I was going to present to tell me that they were not acceptable and that there could be no comparison between single payer and the public option with side by side comparison,” Skala told Single Payer Action. “Darcy Burner told me that they would construe talking about the public option  — even comparing it to single payer — as an attack on the members of the Progressive Caucus.”

“Now, I can’t see how honest discourse about whether or not a public option will work — especially when it comes from 16,000 doctors and the majority of nurses — as an attack on anybody who supports it. We see it as telling the truth.”

Despite Goold’s and Burner’s objections, on June 4, Skala went ahead and made his presentation to the caucus.

“During the presentation it was very nasty,” Skala said. “I got some very dirty looks from Darcy Burner. During the question period and once during the testimony, I was interrupted, told that the Progressive Caucus had taken a position on this issue and unless I had something positive to contribute, then there wasn’t really much point to answering my questions. At least one of my questions to the staff of the Chairman of the caucus was interrupted by the staff of the Congressional Progressive Caucus unfortunately.”

And what exactly was Skala’s crime?

He believes the public option being pushed by Obama and the Democrats will fail.

“The public option preserves all the systemic deficiencies that we see in the current system,” Skala said. “It maintains a finance system that is based on private insurance and private insurers and their drive to fight claims, issue denials, screen out the sick and make a big profit generate tremendous administrative waste — 400 billion dollars a year.”

“Now you can expand coverage by just raising taxes and paying insurers to cover people but that’s not a sustainable system,” Skala said. “But it won’t cover every body and it will fall apart quickly due to rising cost as we’ve seen in Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, Tennessee and Minnesota — state after state after state and it hasn’t worked.”

“Now the definition of insanity is to repeat what has gone on in the past and expect a different result. Yet that’s what we’re doing with the public option. And as a representative of physicians in that capacity, and certainly the relationship I have with nurses and patients, I feel it’s my duty to be honest about the best policy research, the best literature, and the best experience that we have and that all indicates that the public option is going to fail.”

How Many Democrats Will Stand Up to Obama’s Bloated Military Budget and $75 Billion More in War Spending? April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Obama wants billions more for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on top of a US military budget that already surpasses Bush-era spending by $21 billion. Where is the resistance?

by Jeremy Scahill

Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.

The reality is that all of this is false.

Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).

Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense “represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010,” bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, ” Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target.”

Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. “To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit,” Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. “If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs.” Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a “supplemental” spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask of the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds. The WSJ characterized the situation as one of “raising tensions” between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:

“I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should be going there,” she said.

Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. “I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end,” he said.

Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as “embarrassingly naive,” and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Rep. Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.”

Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The anti-war caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass “since many Republicans will support them.”

An interesting point nestled half-way through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election-he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:

The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. “We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them,” said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.

This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.

 

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

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