Friday, May 29, 2009

A Little Chat With A Congresswoman About Afghanistan Leads To The Real Problems Confronting Health Care Reform


Last night I went to a gathering of people interested in hearing from a member of Congress who had just returned from Afghanistan. After a frank talk-- that confirmed my feelings that our presence there is as completely hopeless as it was when Cheney was running the show-- she opened the floor to questions. One woman-- with whom I had co-hosted a fundraiser for state Senator Barack Obama many years ago when he was first running in a seemingly hopeless Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate-- prefaced her question like this: "Since you're the smartest member of Congress..."

Donna Edwards (D-MD) demurred. "I don't know what Barney Frank or Jerrold Nadler would think about that." And there are a number of other exceptionally bright and thoughtful members of Congress as well, probably more than a dozen. But no one who knows her would deny Donna Edwards fits right in with that crew. Many of them were on a short list that caused Rahm Emanuel's short fuse to blow 2 weeks ago-- the 4 dozen Democrats who refused to vote for the supplemental budget that would continue unmerited war funding in Afghanistan. Although Nadler fumed and decided to give Obama the benefit of the doubt at the last minute, most of the other best and brightest Dems in the House courageously voted "no"-- from Alan Grayson (D-FL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jared Polis (D-CO), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Maxine Waters (D-CA) to Barney Frank (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and, of course, Donna Edwards.

But it wasn't her insights about the pathetic non-policy in Afghanistan that I walked away thinking about. It was something she said about the bitter battle over health care reform. One of the House's most outspoken and well-reasoned advocates of universal health care-- sidetracked by the puppets of the Medical Industrial Complex to a chance for a "public option"-- Donna is worried that Big Insurance will embrace the "public option." Embrace and then smother to death in a bear hug. They don't want the competition, so they have given their well-paid allies-- Republicans, Blue Dogs, members of the Evan Bayh anti-Obama Bloc of Senate Conservadems-- their orders: let it pass and then make it dysfunctional. They will gamble everything that their three highest paid shills-- Arlen Specter (R/D-PA- $4,026,933), Max Baucus (D-MT- $2,833,731) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY- $2,758,468)-- will be able to sabotage the public option sufficiently enough to ensure that it is not robust and not competitive.

Although Ted Kennedy is the Chair of the committee that deals with health issues, the Medical Industrial Complex hasn't been forthcoming with the "donations" to him the way they are with the career criminals who always support them, what I call the "over two million dollar men-- like John Cornyn (R-TX), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), These 4 have also been tasked with guaranteeing that a public option will be non-functional. Unfortunately, no one can reasonably expect anything more from Republicans. They are the party that seems to live to torture-- including American working families.

We do, on the other hand, expect more from Democrats. Sometimes I wonder why. Truth be told, though, for every corporate whore like Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson and Tom Carper, the Democrats have stalwart defenders of working families-- Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown and, of course, the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy. And today, despite the mealy-mouthed manipulations of turds like Baucus and Nelson, the Lion was roaring again.
Senator Edward Kennedy, chairman of one of two Senate panels drafting health-care overhaul plans, said he will include a government-run program to compete with private insurers in a measure to be considered in mid-June, asserting his role in the emerging debate despite his battle with brain cancer.

..."An important foundation of our legislation is the following principle: If you like the coverage you have now, you keep it," Kennedy wrote in an op-ed article in the Boston Globe. "But if you don’t have health insurance or don’t like the insurance you have, our bill will give you new, more affordable options."

This is the insurance companies worst nightmare, and the hope for millions of American families. And stopping this is why the Medical-Industrial Complex has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in legalized bribes to corrupt members of Congress-- basically the entire Republican Senate caucus plus Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln and a few other untrustworthy bribe-hungry Democrats. And what about the White House?

Playing on the corporate side you'll always have Rahm Emanuel, the darkest force inside the Administration who went from being the Democrats' Tom DeLay in Congress to being their Karl Rove in the White House. But his isn't the only voice-- only the loudest, most insistent and most malevolent. On the other side of the issue, also vying for the president's ear is OMB Director Peter Orszag. Orszag is committed to real health care reform, exactly what the Baucuses and Nelsons are joining the GOP to prevent. And he's doubly dangerous to their cause because he makes his case in terms of fiscal discipline:
When I give public talks on health care reform, the question I receive most often is "given the government’s fiscal situation, how can it make sense for the government to take on new spending commitments as part of health reform?"  The answer is two-fold.  First, health care reform has two components: cost containment provisions and expanded coverage.  In the near term, the impact of expanded coverage will temporarily dominate, and health care reform will therefore temporarily increase government spending.   Over time, however, the impact of the cost containment provisions will accumulate, and the net impact will be a reduction-– and perhaps a dramatic one-– in government spending.  Second, while we are waiting for the cost containment provisions to take hold, we are insisting that health care reform be deficit neutral.  In other words, the Administration is committed to a health care reform that is at least deficit neutral over 10-years -- and deficit-reducing, potentially to quite a significant degree, over the longer term.

It's important to bolster the worthwhile voices inside the Administration despite the cloying relentlessness of the self-serving legendary Emanuel hype-machine. is running radio ads in Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Delaware, Washington and Florida aimed at senators on Baucus' committee who are still on the fence about the public option. All of the ads but one target Democrats. has also organized “thousands” of members, including doctors, nurses and small-business owners, to visit senators’ district offices to call on them to support the so-called public plan option.

“President Obama and 70 percent of voters support healthcare reform that includes a public health insurance option to contain costs, increase competition and guarantee coverage,” the narrator in the ad states.

“The insurance industry says with new rules they can do it alone, but they’ll find a way to put profits first. We need a health insurance choice not run by the insurance companies to keep costs down and ensure access to quality, affordable care.”

The question over whether to make the public plan option available in all parts of the country has emerged as one of the thorniest of the healthcare debate. Republicans say a nationwide public plan option would be a “non-starter” and would represent a march toward a single-payer, socialized healthcare insurance system. They argue that government competition would drive private healthcare companies out of business.

It's important to remember that the real battle for real health care reform has nothing to do with the GOP. It will take place entirely inside the Democratic Party. Frank Luntz explained the strategy to his GOP clients a few weeks ago: "You're not going to get what you want, but you can kill what they're trying to do." They can-- but only if they can peel off enough corporate Democrats to water down Obama's plans. The Republican smear machine is full operating now and their front groups are operating as though they were in the middle of an election campaign. They're wallowing in the mud and sowing discord and confusion. MoveOn has succinctly distilled the thrust of the Obama plan down to 5 key point:
1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don't-- or don't have any-- you can get the public insurance plan.

2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they're not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you'll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.

3. We'll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won't have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends, or excessive advertising, so it'll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.

4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area, or just kick you off their insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.

5. And it's a key part of universal health care. No longer will sick people or folks in rural communities, or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.

And in both Houses of Congress, the Democrats who were handsomely paid off to abandon their constituents' needs and work for the Insurance companies and HMOs are demanding a place at the table-- and veto power-- for their patrons. Blue Dogs are threatening to cross the aisle en masse and vote with the Republicans to kill the public option entirely unless they get assurances it will be a crippled and dysfunctional system. The Sunlight Foundation put together this chart of some of the Blue Dogs on the take who are throwing up the biggest problems for the people working seriously on mending the health care system.

UPDATE: The Deep Difference Between Kennedy And A Revolting Shill Like Baucus

Today's NY Times draws the clear distinction. Kennedy and all non-corrupt Democrats favor "a robust public health care plan, a government-sponsored entity that would compete with private insurers."
By contrast, Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee, has been working for months with the panel’s senior Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, in the hope of forging a bipartisan bill, which would probably play down the option of a public plan.

Mr. Grassley opposes creation of a new government insurance program and says “we cannot afford the public health plan we have already,” referring to Medicare.

The insurance companies have provided Baucus and other shills, notably Chuck Schumer, with a "fallback plan," that will feature a public option that is designed to not work.
Public opinion polls suggest that many consumers would like to have the choice of a public plan. But insurance companies and Republican lawmakers say a public plan could drive private insurers out of business and lead eventually to a single-payer system run by the government.

Supporters of a public plan have been putting pressure on Mr. Baucus. Mr. Kennedy and 28 other senators signed up last week as co-sponsors of a resolution supporting creation of a public insurance option.

“Health care reform must include insurance reform, and health insurance reform must include the option of a federally backed health insurance plan,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, the chief sponsor of the resolution.

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