Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time to Pull the Plug on Gramps Grassley

Today there was a story in the New York Times entitled “Obama is Taking an Active Role in Talks on Health Care Plan.” It should properly be titled Obama in Bipartisan Health Care Wonderland. At what point does the White House say, enough is enough, the Republicans, in particular Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, aren't negotiating in good faith. It's time to move in another direction? Examples:

NYT: Mr. Obama and his top aides have immersed themselves in the Senate Finance Committee process. The president talks to Mr. Baucus several times a week, people briefed on their conversations say. Mr. Obama has also held a few calls with the panel’s ranking Republican, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

Gramps Grassley: Well, listen, the government is not a competitor. The government is a predator. And what you're going to have according to the Lewin think tank that specializes in health care. You're gonna have everybody opting out of private health insurance into the government-run insurance. [Sen. Grassley on MSNBC, 7/16/09]

The Lewin Group, as was mentioned here, is a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group which, according to Senator John Rockefeller, used Lewin's skewed data to "under-reimburse its own policyholders." Its "data" has been roundly debunked by nonpartisan fact-check groups.

President Obama (inexplicably) at his New Hampshire town hall event: Senator Grassley is one of my "Republican friends on Capitol Hill" who is "sincerely trying to figure out if they find a health care bill that works." 
The President then went on to gratuitously paint the two right wing Republican Senators, Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, as somehow profiles in courage because they are under extreme pressure from their party not to negotiate with Democrats.

Oh Please. First of all, Mr. President, if we get a bill that is minimally acceptable to Democrats, that is, one that includes a robust public option, these right wingers won’t vote for it. The only Republicans who might vote for an acceptable bipartisan compromise are the two moderate Yankee holdouts, OIympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. The sooner the White House accepts this reasonable expectation of reality the better it will be for us to achieve meaningful healthcare reform.

As if to underscore this no-brainer insight, Gramps Grassley the very next day at his own town hall event threw the President under the bus, stoking the cruelest of lies spread by Sarah 'Caribou Barbie' Palin about so-called “death panels:”

Sen. Chuck Grassley said "In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life...You have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma." [Iowa Independent, 8/12/09, emphasis added]

A “moderate” is someone who is generally nonideological politically. Both Grassley and Enzi are steeped in conservative ideology, and they’re not going to budge. They come from sparsely populated states and rely on corporate contributions to a much larger extent than Blue staters. Grassley looks, acts, and speaks like a cumudgeony old man who would be more comfortable in Calvin Coolidge’s America.

A moderate Senator Grassley is not. Senator Grassley has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, 84 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, 100 percent rating from the Family Research Council, and 100 percent rating from Eagle Forum. Conversely, he has a 0% rating from the American Public Health Association (APHA) indicating a non-public health voting record.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the sharpies at the White House, Rham Emanuel and David Axelrod, the President of course, and a phalanx of healthcare policy wonks, don't know what Chuck Grassley's really up to. It's not that hard to figure out.

First, Gramps Grassley is not interested in negotiating in good faith with Democrats on the Finance Committee to craft a bipartisan bill. His interest, as an agent of the health insurance industry, is to obstruct and delay sufficiently to scuttle every one of the Democratic bills that have passed committee and introduce the largely nonexistent and anti-reform Republican "alternatives."

Here's What Grassley said at his town hall: "By sticking my finger in the dyke I have an opportunity to give the grass roots of America to speak up, and that's a good thing."

Really? Seed money for this "Astroturf" opposition has come from ultra-right wing health industry interest groups that coach town hall disrupters on where to go, what lies to scream, and where to position themselves. The powerful right wing lobbyist and former House leader Dick Armey is chairman of one of these groups, Freedomworks, with its coterie of Republican House staff and think tank retreads. Some of these groups have the gall to label themselves "nonpartisan."

All of them, it should be noted, are overwhelmingly white, as are the town hall ranters, injecting a disturbing culture wars/racist undercurrent to these protests, including the Nazi signs, the gun-toting participants, and the hate speech from right wing media. They're a vocal minority, but they don't represent the progressive coalition that voted President Obama into the White House.

Second, Gramps Grassley has not been shy about his objective to kill the Democratic bills:

Grassley’s tweets:

Republicans know need for healthCareReform That's why there are at least 4 Republican bills There is one bipartisan_Wyden-Bennett GiveLookSe
7:27 AM Aug 9th from txt

Misinformatio accuses me of supportin ObamaCare NOT TRUE I M at table making sure Govt takeovr doesn't happen,protect patience,and taxpayers
12:19 PM Jul 24th from txt

PTL BluDogs Keep barkin Pelosie bill is Govt takeovr of healthCare Breaks Obama promise"keep what u hv" Puts Wash Burocrats in chrg MUSTSTOP
9:01 AM Jul 24th from txt

President Obama decisively won the election of 2008 with a mandate from his supporters to change the nation's direction and do big things, including universal healthcare. Part of the President's mystique has been an overreliance, in my view, on the misguided belief that the current crop of Republicans in government can be redeemed and bipartisanship is possible.

It has even become an article of faith among some of the cognoscenti that universal healthcare reform cannot be achieved without bipartisan support and 60 votes. I could repeat what President Lyndon Johnson, who rammed through transformational Medicare, Medicaid, voting rights and civil rights legislation would say to this, but I wouldn't want to turn this post into a town hall rant.

Suffice it say that big Republican names (not as a monolith but close) have historically opposed every single piece of progressive legislation in the 20th century, from social security, to civil and voting rights, to Medicare/Medicaid. Names such as Bob Dole (who boasted in 1996 that he opposed Medicare as Grassley is boasting of obstructing universal healthcare today), Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan opposed Medicare in 1965 as vehemently as misguided Medicare recipients are coached with lies to oppose the President's healthcare plan.

Indeed, some of the ignorant blowhards ranting and raving at town halls today, many of whom are on Medicare, could have been channeling Ronald Reagan when he said: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Right. Seniors are really living in hellish gulags and warehoused in Florida retirement homes as a result of 44 years of health and security in their golden years from the Kennedy-Johnson Medicare program and FDR's social security. Has anyone paused to consider that these, and every other piece of progressive legislation in the past century, were Democratic Party programs and only Democratic Party programs? Have the ignorant Medicare recipients ranting from right wing talking points at town hall meetings about fictitious "death panels" forgotten that when it was the Republicans' turn, Newt Gingrich proposed slashing Medicare or privatizing it so that it would "wither on the vine," or that George W. Bush used his razor-thin electoral loss and selection by the Supreme Court to push through a scheme to privatize social security? Had that occurred, the Medicare ranters at town hall meetings would probably not be alive today once Bush's casino economy collapsed in on their meager privatized savings and threw them all under the bus.

Is ignorance an excuse for hypocrisy? No, because while hypocrisy presumes an informed distortion of the truth, ignorance of the facts cannot be excused when those facts are available for anyone willing to check. As anonymous (so as not to incur the wrath of the mob?) said, "a closed mind is a good thing to lose."

There's nothing that says a president with 60 votes, or ten to spare, can't pass a healthcare bill without a single Republican vote. In my estimation, the stakes for Republicans of saying "NO" are much higher. By the time the 2010 elections roll around, it's reasonable to assume, based on current trends and the stimulus package kicking in, that the economy will be on a sharp upswing. People will feel better, consumer confidence will be up, and a united Democratic Party will have delivered universal healthcare reform with many positive results as it is implemented, and none of the dire consequences always predicted by the demagogues and naysayers on the Republican side.

The notion that two, or even three Republican votes, translates into bipartisanship and gives skittish Democrats including the President political "cover," is ridiculous, especially when we have to surrender our principles. For what; three Republican votes, while the Bohners and the Grassleys stand laughing on the sidelines and prepare to demagogue the issue in the midterms anyway?

Better for Democrats to unite and pass healthcare reform as a Democratic bill, just as social security, and Medicare, and voting and civil rights were -- with Republican support yes, at a time when bipartisanship fit its dictionary definition, but Democratic initiatives.

If the President were to channel a little of Bobby's "ruthlessness" and LBJ's legendary arm-twisting horse trading, here's what he should do. Draw a line in the sand and give the Republicans an ultimatum. "This is as far as I'm willing to compromise; you can get on this train now, and be constructive, or you can stay behind at the station as the Democrats steer this nation into a future of promise, opportunity, and quality, affordable healthcare for all. Your choice." To the Blue Dog Democrats, the President should simply say: "Not supporting this plan is untenable for the Democratic Party. Stand with me, and I'll go all out and work for your re-election. Stand against me, and you're on your own."

That should do it.

A point I made in the “Dear Mr. President” post of July 30 and emailed to the White House on the off chance the President would read it, bears repeating, not for any stellar insight but because what was clear as a cloudless day then is even more crystal clear today. And it represents, I believe, the sentiments of the President's progressive base:
With all due respect, Mr. President, we didn't vote for change, we didn't hand you huge majorities in the House, and a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, to have the fate of meaningful healthcare reform for all Americans decided, or rather destroyed, by Senator Chuck Grassley, who is a shill for the insurance industry.

The last I heard, we had an election. We won and Gramps Grassley's party lost. Big time. I can only hope the President won't decide, for the sake of expediency, to sell progressives down the river -- after we've come so far with him -- for a chimera called bipartisanship.

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