Sunday, December 20, 2009

Healthcare Kabuki Theater and President Obama's Waterloo

The Democrats will have their healthcare bill, barring any unforeseen circumstances, including supernatural interventions invoked by Senators Brownback, DeMint, Vitter, Coburn, and House GOP loon Michelle Bachmann. Apparently they have turned the evil eye on venerable Senate Dean Robert Byrd, who is frail and ailing. Shame on them for forcing Senator Byrd onto the Senate floor at one a.m. in a wheelchair to cast his vote. Such unbecoming lack of “comity” is enough for progressive Democrats to give the bill qualified, but unenthusiastic, support.

It’s far from perfect. It’s not even a good bill. In fact, it’s an insurance companies and Big Pharma bonanza, unless it is drastically improved, amended, and its implementation closely monitored by Congress. The Chicago Tribune has the nitty-gritty.

Progressive Democrats argue that this is a first step toward universal coverage, that they can revisit it later and make it better. Perhaps. But history shows that bad social legislation either ends up in the historical dust bin or compounds its flaws. The best social legislation is that which is done right at the outset, or is designed from scratch: Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Social Security was a limited, generational pension plan that could be built upon and improved over time. Medicare, I would argue, was more progressive in its original form, with Parts A and B –- hospital and outpatient care –- than with Part C, the so-called “Medicare Advantage” adopted in 1997, and the prescription drug sellout to Big Pharma in Part D, passed in 2006. Both Parts C and D were enacted by a Republican Congress.

Part C was Newt Gingrich’s backdoor scheme to privatize Medicare, which he said should “wither on the vine.” Part D was a deficit-busting transfer of wealth to Big Pharma rammed through during the Bush regime. Adding insult to injury, Obama Democrats voted down the pro-consumer drug reimportation amendment, which would allow the government to negotiate drug prices down by importing the same drugs from the same manufacturers for a fraction of their U.S. price. These drugs in countries like Canada and Germany are priced as much as 3-1 and 4-1 or more cheaper. A clear slam-dunk for the consumer was defeated solely because of the White House cheapskate $80 billion deal with Big Pharma.

Has anyone noticed those obnoxious anti-healthcare reform doom-and-gloom TV commercials with a darkened warehouse, a morose, supposedly unemployed worker or two, and the ominous voice-over about an “economy in crisis,” lost jobs, etc. urging us to call Congress and tell our representatives to vote down healthcare because “we just can’t afford it”? It got so that those commercials, paid for by the insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were so ubiquitous and patently false that I was compelled to dive for the remote and change the channel every time they came up. Which was often.

I mention this only because the sudden relief from the absence of such scummy crapaganda was instantly noticed, recorded and recalled here. It couldn’t be for lack of funding –- the anti-healthcare lobby has outspent proponents of progressive, pro-consumer legislation by roughly a 2-1 ratio. So what gives? For one thing, the ads stopped running right after Joe Lieberman’s despicable grandstanding in which he shot down the public option and Medicare buy-in for those 55-and-over, that he had publicly endorsed only two months before, in one fell swoop.

Was Traitor Joe really responsible for the sudden cutoff of the noxious anti-healthcare reform ads? Hmm . . . Not coincidentally, immediately following Lieberman’s sashay down the walk of infamy, President Obama Consiglieri Rham Emanuel was locked in Harry Reid’s office browbeating the Senate Majority Leader to cave to Traitor Joe’s demands, all of them.

Who the hell is Joe Lieberman anyway? He’s not too smart, he’s lazy, he hasn’t read the bill and doesn’t know what’s in it, and he’s a lousy campaigner. Clearly, he was enjoying the limelight, not fully realizing (I believe) the depth of anger he provoked in the progressive community, until Senator Al Franken took him down on the Senate floor and the netroots reacted with (surprise, surprise, corporate shills) characteristic ferocity. In the space of a few days, has raised $1 million to defeat Traitor Joe.

Senator Sherrod Brown, one of the good guys, said of Traitor Joe in an unguarded moment, the time for retribution is not now, it can come later. I’ll buy it. Traitor Joe should know by now that his petty pique will have its consequences at the ballot box. He’s in the progressive movement’s crosshairs for defeat by a real Democrat who will fight for consumers and against the insurance companies. Opponent X to Traitor Joe can expect a sizable campaign fund of millions, thanks to good governance netroots fundraising. President Obama could find himself busy raising money from fat cats to offset the other DINOs targeted for defeat by the fighting progressives.

As that old SNL skit proclaimed, “believe me now or believe me later” . . . the message was heard loud and clear. Not only by puny Joe, who has all but gone underground, but in the White House too. Consiglieri Emanuel unleashed Capo Uno David Axelrod to discredit, rather hysterically, Dr. Howard Dean, who suggested that if the bill were not improved or fixed in Conference it should be killed. One of Dr. Dean’s objections is the bill’s onerous non-denial of pre-existing conditions if insurance companies are permitted to raise premiums at a 3-1 ratio for certain categories of older individuals. Well, argued Senator John Kerry, taking to the floor to insinuate that Dr. Dean didn’t know of what he spoke, prior to this reform this ratio could be as high as 10-1 or 25-1.

Wow. The problem is, Mr. Kerry, not every American is a multimillionaire heir to a ketchup fortune. The point Dr. Dean made is this: If the average policy is $15,000 and an older American with a pre-existing condition, say diabetes, is suddenly charged at the higher 3-1 ratio for insurance coverage, would you consider it onerous for someone making $80,000 or less? Is this the Senate’s idea of affordable healthcare? Do the math.

Watching the Republicans posture politically against a bill they don’t really oppose is like watching GOP kabuki theater. When Mitch McConnell came out to oppose the bill, he was not surrounded by the usual coterie of Republican Senators. Why? Make no mistake about it: The insurance companies and Big Pharma want this bill, and the Republicans know it. So does President Obama, who gave little more than lip service to the public option. Senator Russ Feingold, another good guy, laid the blame squarely on Don Obama’s shoulders:
“Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle. Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included.”

Frank Rich of the New York Times, analyzing the President’s actions during the bank bailout earlier this year, argued that President Obama is a corporatist at heart. Watching the President charge on 60 Minutes that Wall Street bankers “don’t get it,” then deliver a different, more sedate message to bank CEOs in a White House meeting in which three CEOs stiffed the President and didn’t bother to show up, was too cute by half. The President’s pulled these stunts quite a bit lately, and they’re beginning to wear thin with his erstwhile progressive Democratic base, which has grown increasingly restless. Do not forsake us, Mr. President.

Glenn Greenwald of Salon argues in a provocative piece that President Obama
“clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no [public option] 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.”

Senator Feingold was one of the few Democrats to speak truth to power: "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."

In a weird way, the most vociferous GOP opponent of this legislation is one of the Senate’s most conservative members, Dr. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Senator Coburn is perhaps one of the few remaining honest Republicans in opposition. The guy is obsessive about deficits, above all, and shows no sign of even regarding government as a necessary evil. He is a bona fide nutcase who would probably be better off as a full-time self-described “country doctor.” But Coburn is honest in his convictions, and McConnell is more than willing to let him take the point in opposing the bill with rambling, semi-coherent diatribes.

In a bit of Kabuki drama, Senator Coburn said the American people should pray that someone doesn’t show up to vote. Senator Dick Durbin called him out on this, noting that senators should not wish ill upon any member. The assumption was Coburn had referenced the ailing 93-year-old Senator Robert Byrd, who everyone hopes can make his entrance into the Senate chamber in a wheelchair to cast his vote. Ooops . . . Much to Senator McConnell’s chagrin, Coburn hasn’t been seen since.

What a mess. Back to those ubiquitous and obnoxious anti-healthcare ads: They ceased airing because the insurance companies, in their own words, “won!” Thanks to President Obama and allies like Traitor Joe, who carried substantial water for the President, Max Baucus, and the rest of the DINOs, the insurance industry and its wheel-greasing lobbyists will get the sweetheart deal of their dreams. Given his MO, the President probably genuinely believes he can compel the insurance execs to “do the right thing,” suddenly transforming themselves into good corporate citizens and honest, caring stewards of our nation’s healthcare.

The insurance companies and Big Pharma played a shell game of both sides, Republicans and center-right Democrats against progressive Democrats. As usual, progressives, consumers, and the American people were sold down the river to corporate interests. Who do they think they’re fooling? Is the White House still in a post-campaign hubris of “yes we can”? Have they checked their numbers lately? Have they forgotten who elected the President? Senator Byron Dorgan, another good guy, who introduced the drug reimportation amendment, that was implicitly defeated by President Obama, said of the Senate: “My father always told me never to buy anything from someone who’s out of breath. And there’s a breathless quality around here, with all the deal-making.”

Indeed, all the wheeling and dealing makes Clinton’s “triangulation” look like child’s play. Is President Obama on-track to be the greatest president since FDR? Not likely, despite the premature Nobel Peace Prize. The President now seems less like an FDR and RFK Democrat than a strange blend of wonkish fellow Illinoisian Adlai Stevenson and mini-me triangulator Bill Clinton, an Obama ally who said failure to pass this –- any -– healthcare bill would be a “colossal failure” for Democrats. Master politician that he is, Bill Clinton is right. Not passing this bill after all that’s transpired would be a surefire electoral bloodbath for Democrats.

There's always the chance of redemption. Failure is truly not an option. Yet, the conundrum is the inherent danger in passing such a flawed bill and the insurance companies reverting to what they do so well -- gouge their customers -- in spades. Ironically, President Obama might get his healthcare bill and his Waterloo too, after all.

High stakes. It didn't have to be this way. I hope it works out, but I'm not optimistic.

1 comment:

Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

A tip of the hat to the senator from Connecticut for killing the first chance we've ever had for meaningful health care reform....

Honestly, has there ever been as vengeful a little gnat as Joe Lieberman? You'd really have to search the archives of history pretty thoroughly to find someone comparable. There are many reasons why Al Gore was defeated in 2000 by a half-witted frat boy like George W. Bush. One of the main reasons was the abysmal choice of running mate Lieberman.

It was obvious during the debate with Dick Cheney during that campaign that comical Joe was a useless drag on the ticket. When Cheney said that his success in the private sector had nothing to do with the government, Lieberman let the statement stand. Cheney made his fortune at Haliburton because of Government contracts! Government had everything to do with it! Did he purposefully sabotage the Gore campaign? Maybe it's pure paranoia on my part but a case could be made that he did.

Say it ain't so, Revoltin' Joe.

Tom Degan
Goshen NY