Friday, February 26, 2010

The Healthcare Summit and the Republican Worldview

After yesterday’s White House health summit, President Obama and the Democrats must finish the job on healthcare reform alone, turning to the reconciliation process with eyes wide open and, hopefully, signs of a spine. The President gave bipartisanship his best shot and clarified for the American people some of the lies that have been spread about the healthcare bills. In this sense, the summit was a success. Now it’s time to move forward and pass a healthcare bill.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming -- Dick Cheney’s home state –- represents the elitist mindset among Republicans in Congress that is completely divorced from the reality of people’s lives. To put it another way, one of the Republicans’ favorite preemptive talking points over the years is to accuse Democrats of “class warfare,” when in fact it’s the Republicans who represent American oligarchs in the corporate and moneyed elites. (It is interesting to note that Wyoming is the least populous state in the Union, with a U.S. Census estimated population of 544,270 in 2009, and has the second-lowest population density behind, you guessed it, Alaska.) This telling exchange between Senator Barrasso and President Obama demonstrates how differently Republicans and Democrats view the world:
BARRASSO: “. . .And “What's it cost?” ought to be the first question. And that's why, sometimes, people with catastrophic -- catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, are the best consumers of health care.

[. . .] And, Mr. President, when you say, with catastrophic plans, they don't go for care until later, I say sometimes the people with catastrophic plans are the people that are best consumers of health care, in using -- the way they use their health care dollars.

OBAMA: “I just am curious. Would you be satisfied if every member of Congress just had catastrophic care? Do you think we'd be better health care purchasers?

I mean, do you think -- is that a change that we should make?

BARRASSO: Yes, I think -- I think, actually, we would. We'd really focus on it. You'd have more, as you'd say, skin in the game ... and especially if they had a savings account. They could put their money into that and they'd be spending the money out of that.

OBAMA: Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000 or you had -- that was your income? Because that's the reality for a lot of folks. I mean, it is very important, when you say to listen, to listen to that farmer that Tom mentioned in Iowa, to listen to the folks that we get letters from.

Because the truth of the matter, John, is they're not premiers of any place. They're not sultans from wherever. They don't fly in to Mayo and suddenly, you know, decide they're going to spend a couple million on the absolute best health care. They're folks who are left out. And this notion somehow that for them the system was working and that if they just ate a little better and were better health care consumers they could manage is just not the case.

The vast majority of these 27 million or 30 million people that we're talking about, they work, every day. Some of them work two jobs. But if they're working for a small business they can't get health care. If they are self-employed, they can't get health care.

And you know what? It is a scary proposition for them.

And so we can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn't pretend somehow that they don't need help. I get too many letters saying they need help. And so I want to go to...

BARRASSO: Mr. President, having a high deductible plan and a health savings account is an option for members of Congress and federal employees...

OBAMA: That's right, because members of Congress get paid $176,000 a year.


BARRASSO: ... 16,000 -- 16,000 employees take advantage of that.

OBAMA: Because they -- because members of Congress...


BARRASSO: It's the same plan that the -- that the park rangers get...

OBAMA: John...

BARRASSO: ... in Yellowstone National Park.

OBAMA: John, members of Congress are in the top income brackets of the country, and health savings accounts I think can be a useful tool, but every study has shown that the people who use them are folks who've got a lot of disposable income. And the people that we're talking about don't.”

Perhaps Senator Barrasso should poll his colleagues to determine just how popular his idea for them to switch their coverage to catastrophic is. Better yet, Senator Barrasso should lead by example and swith his own insurance to catastrophic, much like Senator Sherrod Brown has refused to participate in the Senate’s healthcare until all of his constituents have access to the same healthcare he does. But then again, Senator Brown (the good one) is a liberal, and liberals have heart.

Class warfare is a preemptive Republican talking point because they could never justify the massive transfer of wealth from our pockets, the middle class taxpayers, to the pockets of the top two percent of the population, or the sweetheart deals, tax breaks, and reciprocal kickbacks to the corporations that grease their campaign wheels. Those ginormous tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans were the first order of business for Republicans after George W. Bush took office, immediately plunging the nation from surplus to deficit.

If anything, the White House healthcare summit exposed the Republican approach, which does not contemplate universal coverage, and pretty much buried any illusions some in the public may have had of “bipartisanship.” The Republicans do not believe in universal coverage for all Americans. It’s that simple. It’s a repugnant worldview, and one that is out of step with every advanced democracy in the world.

The odious John Boehner, who has yet to be spotted exercising his facial smile muscles (does he have any?), in the end launched into a prepared speech tirade in which he pretended to have “listened” to all that was said, and then repeated the Frank Luntz talking points. President Obama was clearly annoyed and told Mr. Boehner that partisan outbursts were not helpful. Perhaps Mr. Boehner’s idea of nonpartisanship is to refrain from referring to the Democratic Party as an adjective, the “Democrat Party,” as he did on the White House lawn. Here is a MoveOn video reminding Boehner’s constituents whom he really represents:

Now, the very same Republicans who voted for the massive Bush deficits have suddenly found religion, in the most despicable ways. Yesterday, despite repeated pleas from his Democratic colleagues, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky placed a hold on desperately needed unemployment and Cobra benefit extensions for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans, because he wants to make a deficit point and have the benefits paid for by the stimulus funds, which are already allocated. This stunning meanspiritedness, the crass cruelty of making a political point on the backs of unemployed Americans is almost unbelievable; but it is par for the course in the Republican Party. Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt would not recognize today’s Republicans.

This isn’t only a Republican sin, to be sure. Democrats, the so-called DINOs (Democrats in name only) are almost equally at fault for feeding from the corporate trough and benefiting corporations with their votes in detriment to the public interest. They have been mentioned here in the DINO Hall of Shame (Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, and Traitor Joe Lieberman, who is an “independent” wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry); even Evan Bayh, who has more integrity than some of these others, has found it so hard to reconcile his coporate ties with his tilt to the right that he is leaving the Senate, with $13 million in his campaign chest and a fairly easy reelection. Senator Bayh’s complaints about excessive partisanship were not convincing and to the cynics among us, his reasons may well be those of a self-serving, ambitious coporatist. Through this prism the Citizens United SCOTUS ruling did not benefit Bayh. Unless, of course, he took himself out of the running. Look for Senator Bayh to return to electoral politics in 2012 or 2016 as a corporatist in sheep’s clothing.

But with the Republicants it isn’t only a matter of ambition and greed; it is also a matter of faith, ideology, and class privilege. Most of all, it’s heartless. There is a word for this institutional political ideology: Fascism.


srbushman said...

First off, to say that this was the President giving "bipartisanship his best shot" is a little too late. Where were the CSPAN camera's during the behind the scenes deals while writing the House and Senate bill? And honestly, I believe he was hoping to give the Republicans an opportunity to bury themselves (and although you disagree), they didn't.

I find it interesting that you would include an embarrassing exchange between the President and Sen. Barrasso, yet left out Rep. Paul Ryan's brilliant break down of numbers. And then didn't include the embarrassing story Rep. Slaughter used about a woman wearing her dead sisters teeth!?! Seriously!?? There is RIDICULOUS insanity on both sides! We had to sit through the over-starched ancient Republican ramblings and the long-winded Democrat story telling. It was a publicity stunt by both parties.

You are right. Conservatives do not want government run universal health care. And after you made the point, you made our point for us. You talked about corruption within our representatives (only highlighted Republicans, which it runs rampant on both sides). This is one HUGE reason I do not want the government in control. They are greedy and corrupt with what they have power over, why give them one more large chunk of the economy?

And truly, I want to know if you believe that the legislation that they are ACTUALLY voting on is the BEST option we have to give more American's coverage or affordable health care.

Carlos said...

The CSPAN cameras were taping the four or five committee proceedings on healthcare right from the start. Then, to add insult to injury there was the Gang of 6 in the Finance Committee, 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans endlessly discussing the legislation because Chrm Baucus "believed" he could bring Republicans in. It was a totally wasted exercise in which the Democrats in the Senate, with their 60 votes, were completely shut out of THAT process.

The Republican strategy right from the beginning was to drag its feet and NOT COOPERATE ON ANYTHING. That was crystal clear, and anyone who wanted to work with Democrats was "told"/ordered by their leadership not to. Sen. Vitter made it plain, make healthcare the President's "Waterloo" and Republicans will "break" him. That punk in the House disrespected the President in a way never seen before by yelling, "YOU LIE!" That was the most INSOLENT behavior by a member of Congress toward a sitting president that I know of, certainly unprecedented in a SOU address.

The Republicans, when they were in power, NEVER sought Democratic cooperation, and passed most of their major legislation on reconciliation, including the Contract on America, Cobra portability, those HUGE tax cuts, and the largest UNPAID entitlement program since Medicare, the Medicare prescription program. Moreover, they have abused the filibuster, using it some 160 times during the President's first year, more than at any other time in history.

As for Rep. Ryan, any numbers he uses are questionable; the President called Ryan on some off-the-wall figures he pulled out of his ass the first time he met with House Republicans. The President's been too kind to Ryan. FYI, Ryan is so into Ayn Rand's radical laissez-faire capitalist philosophy, Objectivism, that he requires his staff to read "Atlas Shrugged" and gives away extra copies to visitors. He fancies himself John Galt, Rand's main character in that didactic novel. True to his "objectivist" ideology, Ryan wants to PRIVATIZE Social Security and KILL Medicare, turning it into a voucher program for seniors to use in purchasing their healthcare. Imagine that! Anyone who is for that kind of government slashing is not in the political mainstream, whether on the left or right.

As for those anecdotes you cite, they do not reflect hard facts and figures. They're an impression, a snapshot that can't be extrapolated. Here's a favorite of mine: "How come George McGovern lost so badly? Everyone I KNOW voted for him!"

The fact that you keep repeating these talking points, "government-run", doesn't make it true. It's not, and the President made that clear. For g'sakes, regulating PRIVATE insurance so that they cannot discriminate on the basis of preexisting conditions, indiscriminately drop people from their rolls, cannot cap lifetime benefits when someone is fighting a terrible and costly illness, and monopolize the markets to fix prices -- IS NOT GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTHCARE.

The President analogized it to meat inspections. We need federal meat inspectors and minimal standards of safety so the meat that reaches our table doesn't KILL US. Absolutely, I WANT federal regulators to rein in the insurance companies and stop their abuses; it's high time this happened. The system is broken and we can't put off fixing our healthcare. I want a federal regulator PROTECTING my benefits from predatory insurance companies, so that all my healthcare decisions are made between me and my doctor and NOT some insurance company bureaucrat who is a glorified phone bank marketer trained to reject people's treatment and medical care.

Carlos said...

You ask me if the legislation that is out there is the BEST option? No.
Not because of the government, but due to the influence of the insurance companies and Big Pharma on Congress. Their lobbying has been fierce. They funded so-called "Tea Parties" and sent their employees out to disrupt town halls, and so on.

And while the Republicans are in their pocket, a sufficient number of Democrats ARE NOT -- the Progressive Caucus of Rep. Weiner, for one -- so that the votes are there to pass a good bill. Hell, I wanted the public option in there, if not for the insurance cos. and their agent, Joe Lieberman, killing it. But it's still a good, centrist bill that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (which Repub. Sen. Grassley calls GOD) scores as reducing the deficit by $100-$150 billion over the next 10 years, and MORE in the out years. It's good for people, it's good for jobs, it's good for national security and competitiveness. It's even good for the DAMNED insurance companies.

srbushman said...

Wow. And the conservatives are labeled angry.

Just to clarify:
Reconciliation was not used to pass Contract for America. Much of what they promised died on the House/Senate floors. Harry Reid speaks half-truths. And why is it when President Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1993, using reconciliation, a democratic Senator Byrd said it was out of the "reconciliation limits" because it was not a budget bill. And when asked last year about using reconciliation for cap and trade bill or health care reform, he responded "is an outrage that must be resisted." It is meant for budgetary use, not to pass major legislation with less resistence. And the one time that reconciliation has been used for a bill not resembling a budget bill was in 2007 when Dems controlled both houses and a republican as President.
And Rep. Joe Wilson did not disrespectively yell "You lie!" during the State of the Union, it was during Pres. Obama's address to Congress on health care. Minor detail, but I know you would catch me if I slipped up the slightest.
And we can agree to disagree.

Carlos said...

This wasn't anger; you shouldn't mistake anger for conviction.

It was about setting the record straight. You're right, it wasn't a SOU speech. Does that make it any less egregious? I'll amend my remarks: I have never seen such insolence by a member of Congress toward a sitting president during a major address to a joint session. I'll challenge anyone to show otherwise.

Regarding reconciliation, all of these bills, most of which were part of the Contract on America, passed with reconciliation:

Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (vetoed)
Personal Responsibility and Budget Reconciliation Act of 1996
Balanced Budget Act of 1997
Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997
Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999 (vetoed)

The fact is it hasn't been used only for budgetary purposes: It was used for welfare reform, drilling in ANWAR, and the Medicare prescription plan. You can bring up Sen. Byrd all you wish, but the fact is, the Republicans fired two successive Senate parliamentarians when the Byrd rule rulings displeased them.

And the Republicans used it to pass the HUGE tax cuts for the rich which was the single largest legislative transfer of wealth from the middle class to the super rich.

Why should 40 senators hold up a 50+1 majority rule? The Republicans used it to ram their programs through all the time, as John McCain admitted: "I fully recognize that Republicans have in the past engaged in using reconciliation to further the party’s agenda. I wish it had not been done then, and I hope it will not be done now that the groundwork has been laid."

Live by the sword, die by the sword. There's precedent and groundwork, as McCain said.

45,000 people die each year for lack of healthcare, according to an academic study by the Harvard Medical School. That's the kind of statistic that every American should find appaling; and they do, according to the polls that say Americans want something done on healthcare. That they're turned off by process and totally misinformed about what's actually in the bill is no surprise, considering the drumbeat of lies by corporate opponents of reform.

srbushman said...

This could be a never ending back and forth, but you have forced me to do more reading, and so I thank you!

The majority of the bills you bring up that the Congress has used reconciliation on (And yes, it was the Republicans who opened this political door, but not have exclusively used this manuever) including the bills under Contract for America and ANWAR, both happened under a democtrat President, who was able to veto. There was a check and balance. Currently, there is a democratic full house, zero checks and balances. Which we should take most responsibility for taking advantage of the power we had and was voted out of office (again to my theme of power corrupts). And I agree with you on the Medicare prescription plan.

But like I pointed out before, there were checks and balances. If they don't have the 60 vote majority in the Senate with 59 democrats and several (to borrow your term) RINO's, doesn't that say something? And regarding reconciliation, Sen. Dodd said he "was not a great fan" but "the issue trumps the process." The process is there for a reason! And to me, it sounds like "the ends justify the means". Which I know you could give numerous Republican examples which are as dispicable, but I thought we were "putting away childish things" and moving on "into the new era of politics". But now I hear more and more of, "Well they did it!", instead of taking the higher ground which his campaign was based on.

And yes, I agree something in regards of REFORM needs to happen. I have had my fair and unfair share of experience with the health insurance and medical system industries. And I read more on the study done by Harvard which sites 45K deaths do to lack of insurance. The study also showed that the increase of current or previous smokers went up 102 and 42%. And that those who considered themselves already in fair/poor health went up 126% and considered poor/fair health by doctors went up 222%. In no way am I suggesting that anyone deserves a preventable death, but I find it interesting that those numbers were so high, and might be attributed to lifestyle not just lack of insurance.

And why is it that every poll that I have seen shows the majority of American's oppose the reform bills that are out there? (Ranging from 50-54% disapprove). They all don't watch Fox and listen to Rush, or they wouldn't have voted in Pres. Obama at a 54% victory. The Congress and President are legislators of the people, and even if the people are "too stupid to see they need it", they are still our agents.

Sorry for monopolizing so much of your commenting surface area! Interesting dialogue.

Carlos said...

I'm glad you say SOMETHING about the need for reform. Are you against doing away with preexisting conditions? Are you against doing away with lifetime caps? Are you against an emphasis on prevention so that smokers, for example, are given incentives to quit, including lower rates for their insurance if they practice healthy living? Are you against bringing down insurance rates and competition? In California rates are estimated to go up 75%, over and above the 39% from BC. 2009-10 combined rate hikes: Maine (55%), Kansas (20-30%), Oregon (40%). Here's what I don't understand about opponents (mostly Republican and Tea Party types) of reform: Between 1999 and 2008, insurance rates increased 119%, and by 2020, WITHOUT REFORM, are estimated to rise another 94%. What party was in power between 1999-08? What did they do for the past 8 years to curb costs? NOTHING, NADA. Except pass a new entitlement program, the Medicare prescription drug plan which lined the pockets of Big Pharma as much as it helped seniors, and ADDED TO THE DEFICIT, BECAUSE IT WAS UNPAID FOR.

In contrast, the Democrats passed bills that are paid for, scored by CBO as bringing down costs and the deficit, and the Republicans are not even being constructive. They spread so many lies, that naturally people who are polled are against it. Speaking of Fox, polls show that people who watch it are the LEAST informed about what is ACTUALLY in the healthcare bills. Because when they're polled about its individual provisions, like preexisting conditions, they're for it.

Carlos said...

A word or two on Medicare. Republicans are HUGE hypocrites on it. They're against it, they voted against its passage, Reagan said it was socialist, the same kind of garbage we're hearing today. Gingrich closed the government down trying to kill it and Paul Ryan's plan kills it and offers seniors vouchers to buy their healthcare at, what ... 119% increases? GOOD LUCK! Now there's a death voucher Republicans can believe in! Is it any wonder Democrats are frustrated by a campaign of lies in which seniors appeal to Republicans to please save their Medicare from those bad, bad socialists? It's like hens inviting the fox into the henhouse to protect them.

Here's the beauty of Frank Luntz talking points, because this guy's like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda wiz. With his campaign of fearmongering, death panels, Luntz convinced seniors that Republicans are really interested in protecting their Medicare and even voted for it. It's like Orwell's "1984". If you read his memos he advises Republicans to LIE, say the exact opposite of what they intend to do in order to kill a Democratic initiative. And he's open about it, too. He brags about it. It's empowering to him that he can manipulate the way people think about issues. I can guarantee you, few seniors are aware of Ryan's scheme, and the one who are support the Democrats' plan. In this regard, the Republicans can't have it three ways, but they get away with it. They can't (a) accuse Democrats of creating a new entitlement while cutting $500 billion from Medicare;(b) accuse Democrats of not going after waste, fraud and abuse, while vowing to protect Medicare "cuts" in waste, fraud and abuse; (c) accuse Democrats of adding to the deficit while condemning what they call "cuts" of $500 billion in Medicare; (d) pretend to be interested in protecting Medicare, while their history from Reagan to Gingrich to Ryan is to KILL it; (e) accuse Democrats of "government-run" healthcare while pretending to protect government-run Medicare; (f) disregard the severity of the problem -- see rate shock above -- which will bankrupt the country if nothing is done. The fact is the so-called "cuts" are not in benefits but sweetheart deals for private insurers, to cut WFA, and reinvest the savings in Medicare to shore it up for succeeding generations. I could go on and on, but I'm fed up with this monumental irresponsibility and hypocrisy from Republicans.

Regarding the Harvard study, I can't comment on your figures because they're presented out of context. Frankly, I don't get your point. But, if it's about blaming the victim, as Barrasso did, suggesting smokers and non-exercisers would be better off with a catastrophic plan, this reminds me of Reagan's "welfare queen", that was supposedly gaming the system and turned out to be a complete fabrication of right wingers. The fact is, the people being squeezed without healthcare are the working poor and lower middle class citizens, who are decent and hard-working, sometimes working two jobs, as President Obama noted, just to stay afloat. The really, REALLY poor actually have access to Medicaid because they qualify under the poverty tables, but working people who play by the rules, pay taxes, and are trying to make a better life for their kids, don't. It's from these people that we hear the horror stories about denial of care and terrible diseases they can't get treatment for. Setting aside the Christian thing, which is that we're our brothers' keepers, do you believe we're not paying for these people in the Harvard study? Every time they end up in the emergency room it comes out of our pockets. The President said it's a $1,000 hidden tax or cost shift for everyone with insurance to pay for the uninsured. That is a FACT. Don't you think that $1,000 could be better applied providing healthcare to the uinsured while bringing your costs down?

Carlos said...

Regarding process, when the Democrats have a president who has a veto it's an appropriate check and balance, but when Republicans pass their agenda through reconciliation with GWB in the WH and control of both chambers of Congress, why, that's perfectly fine. Please be consistent. In the end, rules can be changed and elections have consequences. One of those consequences is NOT to hand majority power to a minority of 40 senators. The President was elected with 53% and a HUGE electoral college margin. If it was a Republican, they'd call it a MANDATE for change.

As for the polls, those people who are supposedly "against" the healthcare bills, count me among them. For me, they don't go far enough! But that doesn't mean I won't take half-a-loaf, because doing nothing is not an option. It's too important. The time to act is NOW.

A correction: it's "Democratic" president, not "democrat president". The proper name of the party (the oldest in continuing existence, founded by Jefferson, given its populist character by Jackson and its transformational one by FDR) is the Democratic Party. It's a question of respect for the institution, whether or not you agree with its platform.

I'm sure you meant no disrespect, so this is a friendly reminder.