Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in California, Democracy, Health.
Tags: California, california democrats, california legislature, california politics, democratic party, greek mythology, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare reform, insurance industry, mark leno, medical insurance, phil angelides, public option, roger hollander, schwarzenegger, single payer, tantalus
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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Democrats mimic GOP sleight-of-hand March 20, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
Tags: big pharma, congress, david sirota, democracy, democrats, drug industry, health, health insurance, health reform, healthcare, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pelosi, politics, public option, republicans, roger hollander
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Friday, Mar 19, 2010 17:20 EDT
They’re selling huge giveaways to insurance companies and Big Pharm as reform that helps the middle class
Ever since Thomas Frank published his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Democrats have sought a political strategy to match the GOP’s. The healthcare bill proves they’ve found one.
Whereas Frank highlighted Republicans’ sleight-of-hand success portraying millionaire tax cuts as gifts to the working class, Democrats are now preposterously selling giveaways to insurance and pharmaceutical executives as a middle-class agenda. Same formula, same fat-cat beneficiaries, same bleating sheeple herded to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is the Rube Goldberg contraption that Democrats are using to tend the flock.
First, their leaders campaign on pledges to create a government insurer (a “public option”) that will compete with private health corporations. Once elected, though, Democrats propose simply subsidizing those corporations, which are (not coincidentally) filling Democratic coffers. Justifying the reversal, Democrats claim the subsidies will at least help some citizens try to afford the private insurance they’ll be forced to buy — all while insisting Congress suddenly lacks the votes for a public option.
Despite lawmakers’ refusal to hold votes verifying that assertion, liberal groups obediently follow orders to back the bill, their obsequious leaders fearing scorn from Democratic insiders and moneymen. Specifically, MoveOn, unions and “progressive” nonprofits threaten retribution against lawmakers who consider voting against the bill because it doesn’t include a public option. The threats fly even though these congresspeople would be respecting their previous public-option ultimatums — ultimatums originally supported by many of the same groups now demanding retreat.
Soon it’s on to false choices. Democrats tell their base that any bill is better than no bill, even one making things worse, and that if this particular legislation doesn’t pass, Republicans will win the upcoming election — as if signing a blank check to insurance and drug companies couldn’t seal that fate. They tell everyone else that “realistically” this is the “last chance” for reform, expecting We the Sheeple to forget that those spewing the do-or-die warnings control the legislative calendar and could immediately try again.
Predictably, the fear-mongering prompts left-leaning establishment pundits to bless the bill, giving Democratic activists concise-yet-mindless conversation-enders for why everyone should shut up and fall in line (“Krugman supports it!”). Such bumper-sticker mottos are then demagogued by Democratic media bobbleheads and their sycophants, who dishonestly imply that the bill’s progressive opponents 1) secretly aim to aid the far right and/or 2) actually hope more Americans die for lack of healthcare. In the process, the legislation’s sellouts are lambasted as the exclusive fault of Republicans, not Democrats and their congressional majorities.
Earth sufficiently scorched, President Obama then barnstorms the country, calling the bill a victory for “ordinary working folks” over the same corporations he is privately promising to enrich. The insurance industry, of course, airs token ads to buttress Obama’s “victory” charade — at the same time its lobbyists are, according to Politico, celebrating with chants of “We win!”
By design, pro-public-option outfits like Firedoglake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee end up depicted as voices of the minority, even as they champion an initiative that polls show the majority of voters support. Meanwhile, telling questions hang: If this represents victory over special interests, why is Politico reporting that “drug industry lobbyists have huddled with Democratic staffers” to help pass the bill? How is the legislation a first step to reform, as proponents argue, if it financially and politically strengthens insurance and drug companies opposing true change? And what prevents those companies from continuing to increase prices?
These queries go unaddressed — and often unasked. Why? Because their answers threaten to expose the robbery in progress, circumvent the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” contemplation and raise the most uncomfortable question of all:
What’s the matter with Democrats?
© 2010 Creators.com
Tags: bernie sanders, congress, democracy, democrats, dick durbin, filbuster, glenn greenwald, health, health care, health reform, public option, reconciliation, roger hollander, senate
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(Roger’s note: this article is not only about health reform, but it is a graduate seminar on how government works. I can tell you, as a former city councillor in Canada’s major metropolis, that Greenwald has captured the dynamic to a T. Elected officials have two constituencies: the people who elect them and the powers, special interests, lobbyists who own them. The represent the latter 364 days a year, and the former only on Election Day. I can assure you, for example, had John McCain won the presidency, there would be no greater opponents to the escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan than Obama and Clinton. Their passionate pacifism would make Ghandi look like a hawk. Democracy under capitalism is little more than a sham and electoral politics little more than a farce. It is all about money and power, not human values.)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what seemed to be a glaring (and quite typical) scam perpetrated by Congressional Democrats: all year long, they insisted that the White House and a majority of Democratic Senators vigorously supported a public option, but the only thing oh-so-unfortunately preventing its enactment was the filibuster: sadly, we have 50 but not 60 votes for it, they insisted. Democratic pundits used that claim to push for “filibuster reform,” arguing that if only majority rule were required in the Senate, then the noble Democrats would be able to deliver all sorts of wonderful progressive reforms that they were truly eager to enact but which the evil filibuster now prevents. In response, advocates of the public option kept arguing that the public option could be accomplished by reconciliation — where only 50 votes, not 60, would be required — but Obama loyalists scorned that reconciliation proposal, insisting (at least before the Senate passed a bill with 60 votes) that using reconciliation was Unserious, naive, procedurally impossible, and politically disastrous.
All of that was bad enough, but now the scam is getting even more extreme, more transparent. Faced with the dilemma of how they could possibly justify their year-long claimed support for the public option only now to fail to enact it, more and more Democratic Senators were pressured into signing a letter supporting the enactment of the public option through reconciliation; that number is now above 40, and is rapidly approaching 50. In other words, there is a serious possibility that the Senate might enact a public option if there is a vote on it, because it’s very difficult for these Senators to vote “No” after pretending all year long — on the record — that they supported it. In fact, The Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim yesterday wrote: “the votes appear to exist to include a public option. It’s only a matter of will.”
The one last hope for Senate Democratic leaders was to avoid a vote altogether on the public option, thereby relieving Senators of having to take a position and being exposed. But that trick would require the cooperation of all Senators — any one Senator can introduce a public option amendment during the reconciliation and force a vote — and it now seems that Bernie Sanders, to his great credit, is refusing to go along with the Democrats’ sham and will do exactly that: ignore the wishes of the Senate leadership and force a roll call vote on the public option.
So now what is to be done? They only need 50 votes, so they can’t use the filibuster excuse. They don’t seem able to prevent a vote, as they tried to do, because Sanders will force one. And it seems there aren’t enough Senate Democrats willing to vote against the public option after publicly saying all year long they supported it, which means it might get 50 votes if a roll call vote is held. So what is the Senate Democratic leadership now doing? They’re whipping against the public option, which they pretended all year along to so vigorously support:
Senate Democratic leaders are concerned about the amount of mischief their own Members could create if or when a health care reconciliation bill comes up for debate. And sources said some supporters of creating a public insurance option are privately worried that they will be asked to vote against the idea during debate on the bill, which could occur before March 26.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Wednesday that liberals may be asked to oppose any amendment, including one creating a public option, to ensure a smooth ride for the bill. “We have to tell people, ‘You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen,” Durbin, who supports a public option, told reporters.
If — as they claimed all year long — a majority of Congressional Democrats and the White House all support a public option, why would they possibly whip against it, and ensure its rejection, at exactly the moment when it finally became possible to pass it? If majorities of the House and Senate support it, as does the White House, how could the inclusion of a public option possibly jeopardize passage of the bill?
I’ve argued since August that the evidence was clear that the White House had privately negotiated away the public option and didn’t want it, even as the President claimed publicly (and repeatedly) that he did. And while I support the concept of “filibuster reform” in theory, it’s long seemed clear that it would actually accomplish little, because the 60-vote rule does not actually impede anything. Rather, it is the excuse Democrats fraudulently invoke, using what I called the Rotating Villain tactic (it’s now Durbin’s turn), to refuse to pass what they claim they support but are politically afraid to pass, or which they actually oppose (sorry, we’d so love to do this, but gosh darn it, we just can’t get 60 votes). If only 50 votes were required, they’d just find ways to ensure they lacked 50. Both of those are merely theories insusceptible to conclusive proof, but if I had the power to create the most compelling evidence for those theories that I could dream up, it would be hard to surpass what Democrats are doing now with regard to the public option. They’re actually whipping against the public option. Could this sham be any more transparent?
UPDATE: One related point: when I was on Morning Joe several weeks ago, I argued this point — why aren’t Democrats including the public option in the reconciliation package given that they have the 50 votes in favor of the public option — and, in response, Chuck Todd recited White House spin and DC conventional wisdom (needless to say) by insisting that they do not have the votes to pass the public option. If that’s true — if they lack the votes to pass the public option through reconciliation? — why is Dick Durbin now whipping against it, telling Senators — in his own words — “You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen”?
No discussion of the public option is complete without noting how much the private health insurance industry despises it; the last thing they want, of course, is the beginning of real competition and choice.
Do Not Resuscitate the ‘Public Option’ February 23, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: andy coates, dirigochoice, health, health care, health care reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, private insurance, public option, roger hollander, single payer, universal coveage
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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?)
by Andy Coates
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.
Pro-Single-Payer Physicians Call for Defeat of Senate Health Bill December 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: anti-abortion, congress, health, health care reform, health insurance, health reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, Medicaid, medicare, public option, roger hollander, senate, senate bill, single payer, uninsured
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The negatives, the group says, include the individual mandate requiring that people buy private insurance policies, large government subsidies to private insurers, new restrictions on abortion, the unfair taxing of high-cost health plans, and cuts of $43 billion in Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals. Moreover, at least 23 million people will remain uninsured when the plan finally takes effect, they said.
“We have concluded that the Senate bill’s passage would bring more harm than good,” the group said in a statement signed by its president, Dr. Oliver Fein, and two co-founders, Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler.
Addressing the Senate in an open letter, they write: “We ask that you defeat the bill currently under debate, and immediately move to consider the single-payer approach – an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program – which prioritizes the advancement of our nation’s health over the enhancement of private, profit-seeking interests.”
The full statement appears below.
To the Members of the U.S. Senate:
It is with great sadness that we urge you to vote against the health care reform legislation now before you. As physicians, we are acutely aware of the unnecessary suffering that our nation’s broken health care financing system inflicts on our patients. We make no common cause with the Republicans’ obstructionist tactics or alarmist rhetoric. However, we have concluded that the Senate bill’s passage would bring more harm than good.
We are fully cognizant of the salutary provisions included in the legislation, notably an expansion of Medicaid coverage, increased funds for community clinics and regulations to curtail some of private insurers’ most egregious practices. Yet these are outweighed by its central provisions – particularly the individual mandate – that would reinforce private insurers’ stranglehold on care. Those who dislike their current employer-sponsored coverage would be forced to keep it. Those without insurance would be forced to pay private insurers’ inflated premiums, often for coverage so skimpy that serious illness would bankrupt them. And the $476 billion in new public funds for premium subsidies would all go to insurance firms, buttressing their financial and political power, and rendering future reform all the more difficult.
Some paint the Senate bill as a flawed first step to reform that will be improved over time, citing historical examples such as Social Security. But where Social Security established the nidus of a public institution that grew over time, the Senate bill proscribes any such new public institution. Instead, it channels vast new resources – including funds diverted from Medicare – into the very private insurers who caused today’s health care crisis. Social Security’s first step was not a mandate that payroll taxes which fund pensions be turned over to Goldman Sachs!
While the fortification of private insurers is the most malignant aspect of the bill, several other provisions threaten harm to vulnerable patients, including:
- The bill’s anti-abortion provisions would restrict reproductive choice, compromising the health of women and adolescent girls.
- The new 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans – deceptively labeled a “Cadillac tax” – would hit many middle-income families. The costs of group insurance are driven largely by regional health costs and the demography of the covered group. Hence, the tax targets workers in firms that employ more women (whose costs of care are higher than men’s), and older and sicker employees, particularly those in high-cost regions such as Maine and New York.
- The bill would drain $43 billion from Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals, threatening the care of the 23 million who will remain uninsured even if the bill works as planned. These threatened hospitals are also a key resource for emergency care, mental health care and other services that are unprofitable for hospitals under current payment regimes. In many communities, severely ill patients will be left with no place to go – a human rights abuse.
- The bill would leave hundreds of millions of Americans with inadequate insurance – an “actuarial value” as low as 60 percent of actual health costs. Predictably, as health costs continue to grow, more families will face co-payments and deductibles so high that they preclude adequate access to care. Such coverage is more akin to a hospital gown than to a warm winter coat.
Congress’ capitulation to insurers – along with concessions to the pharmaceutical industry – fatally undermines the economic viability of reform. The bill would inflate the already crushing burden of insurance-related paperwork that currently siphons $400 billion from care annually. According to CMS’ own projections, the bill will cause U.S. health costs to increase even more rapidly than presently, and budget neutrality is to be achieved by draining funds from Medicare and an accounting trick – front-loading the new revenues while delaying most new coverage until 2014. As homeowners seduced into balloon mortgages have learned, pushing costs off to the future is neither prudent nor sustainable.
We ask that you defeat the bill currently under debate, and immediately move to consider the single-payer approach – an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program – which prioritizes the advancement of our nation’s health over the enhancement of private, profit-seeking interests.
Oliver Fein, M.D., President
David U. Himmelstein, M.D., Co-founder
Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H., Co-founder
Physicians for a National Health Program
Yet More “Plus ça change …” You Can Believe In December 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
Tags: aetna, blue cross, blue dogs, congress, glenn greenwald, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, health legislation, health reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, Joe Lieberman, medicare, medicare expansion, Obama, Obama presidency, pharma, pharmaceutical indurstry, plus ca change, public option, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, russ feingold, single payer
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White House as Helpless Victim on Health Care
by Glenn Greenwald
Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferious email backlash — easily — was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama’s occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House — hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama’s campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn’t pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party — rather than the GOP — will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.
As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this — the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional “centrists.” Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start — the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry. And kudos to Russ Feingold for saying so:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.
“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”
Let’s repeat that: “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.” Indeed it does. There are rational, practical reasons why that might be so. If you’re interested in preserving and expanding political power, then, all other things being equal, it’s better to have the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry on your side than opposed to you. Or perhaps they calculated from the start that this was the best bill they could get. The wisdom of that rationale can be debated, but depicting Obama as the impotent progressive victim here of recalcitrant, corrupt centrists is really too much to bear.
Yet numerous Obama defenders — such as Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Steve Benen — have been insisting that there is just nothing the White House could have done and all of this shows that our political system is tragically “ungovernable.” After all, Congress is a separate branch of government, Obama doesn’t have a vote, and 60 votes are needed to do anything. How is it his fault if centrist Senators won’t support what he wants to do? Apparently, this is the type of conversation we’re to believe takes place in the Oval Office:
The President: I really want a public option and Medicare buy-in. What can we do to get it?
Rahm Emanuel: Unfortunately, nothing. We can just sit by and hope, but you’re not in Congress any more and you don’t have a vote. They’re a separate branch of government and we have to respect that.
The President: So we have no role to play in what the Democratic Congress does?
Emanuel: No. Members of Congress make up their own minds and there’s just nothing we can do to influence or pressure them.
The President: Gosh, that’s too bad. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see what happens then.
In an ideal world, Congress would be — and should be — an autonomous branch of government, exercising judgment independent of the White House’s influence, but that’s not the world we live in. Does anyone actually believe that Rahm Emanuel (who built his career on industry support for the Party and jamming “centrist” bills through Congress with the support of Blue Dogs) and Barack Obama (who attached himself to Joe Lieberman when arriving in the Senate, repeatedly proved himself receptive to “centrist” compromises, had a campaign funded by corporate interests, and is now the leader of a vast funding and political infrastructure) were the helpless victims of those same forces? Engineering these sorts of “centrist,” industry-serving compromises has been the modus operandi of both Obama and, especially, Emanuel.
Indeed, we’ve seen before what the White House can do — and does do — when they actually care about pressuring members of Congress to support something they genuinely want passed. When FDL and other liberal blogs led an effort to defeat Obama’s war funding bill back in June, the White House became desperate for votes, and here is what they apparently did (though they deny it):
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday. “We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
That’s what the White House can do when they actually care about pressuring someone to vote the way they want. Why didn’t they do any of that to the “centrists” who were supposedly obstructing what they wanted on health care? Why didn’t they tell Blanche Lincoln — in a desperate fight for her political life — that she would “never hear from them again,” and would lose DNC and other Democratic institutional support, if she filibustered the public option? Why haven’t they threatened to remove Joe Lieberman’s cherished Homeland Security Chairmanship if he’s been sabotaging the President’s agenda? Why hasn’t the President been rhetorically pressuring Senators to support the public option and Medicare buy-in, or taking any of the other steps outlined here by Adam Green? There’s no guarantee that it would have worked — Obama is not omnipotent and he can’t always control Congressional outcomes — but the lack of any such efforts is extremely telling about what the White House really wanted here.
Independent of the reasonable debate over whether this bill is a marginal improvement over the status quo, there are truly horrible elements to it. Two of the most popular provisions (both of which, not coincidentally, were highly adverse to industry interests) — the public option and Medicare expansion — are stripped out (a new Washington Post/ABC poll out today shows that the public favors expansion of Medicare to age 55 by a 30-point margin). What remains is a politically distastrous and highly coercive “mandate” gift to the health insurance industry, described perfectly by Digby:
Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.
Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.
In essence, this re-inforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington. The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored (don’t worry about us — we’re announcing in advance that we’ll support whatever you feed us no matter how little it contains of what we want and will never exercise raw political power to get what we want; make sure those other people are happy but ignore us). Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress. And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as “centrist,” the noblest Beltway value.
Looked at from the narrow lens of health care policy, there is a reasonable debate to be had among reform advocates over whether this bill is a net benefit or a net harm. But the idea that the White House did what it could to ensure the inclusion of progressive provisions — or that they were powerless to do anything about it — is absurd on its face. Whatever else is true, the overwhelming evidence points to exactly what Sen. Feingold said yesterday: “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.”
Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance November 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan troops, Afghanistan War, Bill Clinton, clinton presidency, congress, democrats, dick morris, glass-steagall, gop, health care, health care reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, jeff cohen, NAFTA, newt gingrich, Obama presidency, Obama White House, public option, Rahm Emanuel, republicans, roger hollander, telecom act
1 comment so far
With Obama pushing a huge troop escalation in Afghanistan, history may well repeat itself with a vengeance. And it’s not just the apt comparison to LBJ, who destroyed his presidency on the battlefields of Vietnam with an escalation that delivered power to Nixon and the GOP.
There’s another frightening parallel: Obama seems to be following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who accomplished perhaps his single biggest legislative “triumph” – NAFTA – thanks to an alliance with Republicans that overcame strong Democratic and grassroots opposition.
It was 16 years ago this month when Clinton assembled his coalition with the GOP to bulldoze public skepticism about the trade treaty and overpower a stop-NAFTA movement led by unions, environmentalists and consumer rights groups. How did Clinton win his majority in Congress? With the votes of almost 80 percent of GOP senators and nearly 70 percent of House Republicans. Democrats in the House voted against NAFTA by more than 3 to 2, with fierce opponents including the Democratic majority leader and majority whip.
To get a majority today in Congress on Afghanistan, the Obama White House is apparently bent on a strategy replicating the tragic farce that Clinton pulled off: Ignore the informed doubts of your own party while making common cause with extremist Republicans who never accepted your presidency in the first place.
“Deather” conspiracists are not new to the Grand Old Party. Clinton engendered a similar loathing on the right despite his centrist, corporate-friendly policies. When conservative Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey delivered to Clinton (and corporate elites) the NAFTA victory, it didn’t slow down rightwing operatives who circulated wacky videos accusing Clinton death squads of murdering reporters and others.
For those who elected Obama, it’s important to remember the downward spiral that was accelerated by Clinton’s GOP alliance to pass NAFTA. It should set off alarm bells for us today on Afghanistan.
NAFTA was quickly followed by the debacle of Clinton healthcare “reform” largely drafted by giant insurance companies, which was followed by a stunning election defeat for Congressional Democrats in November 1994, as progressive and labor activists were lethargic while rightwing activists in overdrive put Gingrich into the Speaker’s chair.
A year later, advised by his chief political strategist Dick Morris (yes, the Obama-basher now at Fox), Clinton declared: “The era of big government is over.” In the coming years, Clinton proved that the era of big business was far from over – working with Republican leaders to grant corporate welfare to media conglomerates (1996 Telecom Act) and investment banks (1999 abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act).
Today, it’s crucial to ask where Obama is heading. From the stimulus to healthcare, he’s shown a Clinton-like willingness to roll over progressives in Congress on his way to corrupt legislation and frantic efforts to compromise for the votes of corporate Democrats or “moderate” Republicans. Meanwhile, the incredible shrinking “public option” has become a sick joke.
As he glides from retreats on civil liberties to health reform that appeases corporate interests to his Bush-like pledge this week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, an Obama reliance on Congressional Republicans to fund his troop escalation could be the final straw in disorienting and demobilizing the progressive activists who elected him a year ago.
Throughout the centuries, no foreign power has been able to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, but President Obama thinks he’s a tough enough Commander-in-Chief to do it. Too bad he hasn’t demonstrated such toughness in the face of obstructionist Republicans and corporate lobbyists. For them, it’s been more like “compromiser-in-chief.”
When you start in the center (on, say, healthcare or Afghanistan) and readily move rightward several steps to appease rightwing politicians or lobbyists or Generals, by definition you are governing as a conservative.
It’s been a gradual descent from the elation and hope for real change many Americans felt on election night, November 2008. For some of us who’d scrutinized the Clinton White House in the early 1990s, the buzz was killed days after Obama’s election when he chose his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a top Clinton strategist and architect of the alliance that pushed NAFTA through Congress.
If Obama stands tough on more troops to Afghanistan (as Clinton fought ferociously for NAFTA), only an unprecedented mobilization of progressives – including many who worked tirelessly to elect Obama – will be able to stop him. Trust me: The Republicans who yell and scream about Obama budget deficits when they’re obstructing public healthcare will become deficit doves in spending the estimated $1 million per year per new soldier (not to mention private contractors) headed off to Asia.
The only good news I can see: Maybe it will take a White House/GOP alliance over Afghanistan to wake up the base of liberal groups (like MoveOn) to take a closer and more critical look at President Obama’s policies.
Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). His latest book is Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.
Important Message Re: Health Reform Legislation: PROTEST HR 3962, Or Be Stuck With Corporate Medical Insurance Racket For The Rest Of Our Lives November 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: congress, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health legislation, healthcare reform, insurance industry, medicare, medicare-for-all, public option, roger hollander, single payer
1 comment so far
“Folks, we are dedicating the next couple months of our lives to stopping the phony reform, and forcing Congress to get real about good public policy. The bill that passed the House last week, HR 3962, represents one of the most profound betrayals in American political history. Forget the fact that the Republicans oppose it as well, they would oppose anything coming out of a Congress where they did not have majority control. WE must oppose HR 3962 because it is a transparent sham, a total sellout to the medical insurance industry.”
Who Else Wants To Get SERIOUS About Real Health Care Reform??
We need the help of every one of our participants who has a website (if not please read on because there is an individual action page as well). We have created a simple and small sized (182×228 pixels) web page module, perfect for the side bar of your web page, where people can watch the latest of the “I’m A Democrat, And I’m A Republican” videos. To get this feature for your website just put the following code anywhere on your web page.
We have already shot six of these incredibly professional looking videos, making the point (with wit and humor) that NEITHER the Democrats, NOR the Republicans, are actually interested in real health care reform. The Democrats are forcing consideration of only plans that further empower the medical insurance corporations that are ripping us off now. The Republican are only interested in derelict non-regulation, achieving the same end result by default.
By getting more and more people to watch these videos, we will mobilize people to submit this fax action page, which sends a strongly worded but even tempered petition (which you can read on the page), stating in essence that we the people are demanding real reform and will not be fooled again. And you can add your own personal comments as well. WATCH the video also on this page.
Medicare For All FREE Fax Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1020.php
There will be a new video release in the “I’m A Democrat, I’m A Republican” series once a week, and the web page module will automatically update with the latest video. And we are asking you, our participants to submit the petition yourself ALSO once a week. We need to speak out and keep speaking out, until Congress finally gets the message, to stop fooling around and do what should have been done in the first place, pass economical and efficient Medicare for All.
Folks, we are dedicating the next couple months of our lives to stopping the phony reform, and forcing Congress to get real about good public policy. The bill that passed the House last week, HR 3962, represents one of the most profound betrayals in American political history. Forget the fact that the Republicans oppose it as well, they would oppose anything coming out of a Congress where they did not have majority control. WE must oppose HR 3962 because it is a transparent sham, a total sellout to the medical insurance industry.
You don’t have to believe us. Believe the corporate analysts themselves gloating about the additional windfall profits they are predicting from this fatally corrupt bill, that purports to FORCE all Americans to buy a plan from a lobbyist designed restrictive “market”, where at least 90% of the American people would be excluded from participating in the feeble non-competitive “public” option provided, even if we wanted to. They might as well now call it the “welfare” option, because all it really represents is welfare FOR the insurance companies.
The Republicans condemn the bill because they demagogue that it does too much. The truth is that it does so LITTLE, that by the time the Senate gets through with it we expect there will be nothing left that any progressive could cheer about. The ultimate Benedict Arnold, Joe Lieberman says HR 3962 is dead on arrival. So we might as well throw it in the medical waste bin where it belongs and start from scratch, then let him try to filibuster what the American people REALLY want.
And we are especially ashamed of the Congressional so-called “Progressive” Caucus which, except for Kucinich and Massa, have demonstrated once again how utterly worthless they are as representatives for the people of their districts.
From time to time we will get email from some of you arguing that there is no point in emailing hardcore Republicans, for those of you who live in such districts where that is your current representation. We disagree about that of course. Never should we let the worst members of Congress think that even people in their own districts are just going to roll over and take just keep taking it in silence.
But for crying out loud, at least the liberals ought to be listening to us. And for the presumptive liberals to wave through a bill that as a bottom line makes exploitive and overpriced corporate insurance MANDATORY, under threat of the police power of the IRS, is so outrageous it defies belief. Each and every one of these gutless wonders needs to hear our protests now.
Medicare For All FREE Fax Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1020.php
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Stupak amendment, forbidding a woman to even use her own money to pay for an abortion, because no plan in the new market will be allowed to provide such a service, even if the plan that woman was forced to buy was paid for with 100% of her own money, is so far out into reactionist wowee-wowee land, it is incredulous that any so-called progressive could have voted for final passage with such a provision in there, especially as they had already SWORN not to support a bill with such a weak joke of a public plan.
So now, and only in response to our outrage, some of them are backtracking, SAYING that draconian anti-choice provision needs to come out of the final bill. Have you ever heard such worthless lip service in your life (apart from their lip service of last week, last month, the year before that, etc.)? Where were the voices of these miserable cowards in Congress, trying to pass themselves off as our progressive representatives, when they voted for FINAL passage in the first place? Who can count on them to put up a fight even one time any time in the future, if they could and would not do so last week?
And the ultimate answer remains what it has always been. IF AND WHEN enough of us speak out at ONCE, and declare that we will no longer support their perpetual shinola, then and only then will we get real policy change. We live for the day when we can build such a base to make it so. That day can be today! So please submit the fax action page once a week, encourage everyone you know to do the same, put the video module on all of your websites so we can get hundreds of thousands of views, and like numbers of action page submissions. Then we will have a real movement for real policy change.
And here is the one click Facebook page for this same fax action.
Single Payer Amendments Action: http://apps.facebook.com/fb_voices/action.php?qnum=pnum1020
And the Twitter reply to send, to send this message to all your members of Congress that way, is
Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.
If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.peaceteam.net/in.htm
Or if you want to cease receiving our messages, just use the function at http://www.peaceteam.net/out.htm