Monday, December 14, 2009

The Big Betrayal: The Democratic Party and the Obama Administration Sell Us Down The River on National Healthcare Reform--With our Complicit Support


There's no other way to say it and still tell the truth so I ain't gonna pretend that there is: The national healthcare 'reform' legislation presently stumbling along toward severely compromised passage in the Senate is nothing but a huge sellout to the criminally avaricious insurance and pharmaceutical companies. A shortlist of what is fatally wrong with this egregiously backward proposal can be described as follows: This massive bullshit bill does not provide universal coverage for American citizens, does not provide public-based economic competition against the current de facto corporate monopoly/oligopoly of national healthcare services and protection, does not keep down or regulate soaring and largely arbitrary healthcare costs, does not provide cheaper and more comprehensive coverage and protection for the poor and working classes, does not extend or expand medicare coverage to younger citizens under 64, and does not advocate or provide any kind of institutional alternative to the prevailing legal, economic, and political domination and control of the conservatives and rightwing opposition in both the Democratic and Republican parties. In a word: WE'RE SCREWED.

As Rolling Stone political journalist Matt Taibbi pointed out so clearly and prophetically in his long, stunningly brilliant, and groundbreaking article/essay 'Sick and Wrong: How Washington is screwing up health care reform--and why it may take a revolt to fix it' originally published August 19, 2009 in Rolling Stone, reprinted on September 3, 2009 online: and reprinted in this magazine on September 12, 2009, this current debacle is as much our own fault as duped, ignorant, and cynical citizens as it is of the typically corrupt, cowardly, opportunist, and on-the-make hustler politicians on both sides of the aisle. As Taibbi made crystal clear in August of this year the stark political and economic reality we are all faced with as corporate capitalism runs rampant in our lives is epitomized and represented most dramatically in the now largely lost fight for genuine national healthcare reform:

"To recap, here's what ended up happening with health care. First, they gave away single-payer before a single gavel had fallen, apparently as a bargaining chip to the very insurers mostly responsible for creating the crisis in the first place. Then they watered down the public option so as to make it almost meaningless, while simultaneously beefing up the individual mandate, which would force millions of people now uninsured to buy a product that is no longer certain to be either cheaper or more likely to prevent them from going bankrupt. The bill won't make drugs cheaper, and it might make paperwork for doctors even more unwieldy and complex than it is now. In fact, the various reform measures suck so badly that PhRMA, the notorious mouthpiece for the pharmaceutical industry which last year spent more than $20 million lobbying against health care reform, is now gratefully spending more than seven times that much on a marketing campaign to help the president get what he wants.

So what's left? Well, the bills do keep alive the so-called employer mandate, requiring companies to provide insurance to their employees. A good idea — except that the Blue Dogs managed to exempt employers with annual payrolls below $500,000, meaning that 87 percent of all businesses will be allowed to opt out of the best and toughest reform measure left. Thanks to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, we can now be assured that the 19 or 20 employers in America with payrolls above $500,000 who do not already provide insurance will be required to offer good solid health coverage. Hurray!

Or will they? At the end of July, word leaked out that the Senate Finance Committee, in addition to likely spiking the public option, had also decided to ditch the employer mandate. It was hard to be certain, because even Democrats on the committee don't know what's going on in the Group of Six selected by Baucus to craft the bill. Things got so bad that some Democrats on the committee — including John Kerry, Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez — were reduced to holding what amounts to shadow hearings on health care several times a week, while Baucus and his crew conducted their meetings in relative secrecy. The chairman did not even bother to keep his fellow Democrats informed of the bill's developments, let alone what he has promised Republicans in return for their support of the bill. "The Group of Six has hijacked the process," says an aide to one of the left-out senators.

This leaves Democrats on the committee in the strange position of seriously considering pulling their support for a bill that will emerge from a panel on which they hold a clear majority. Other Democrats are also weighing an end run around their own leadership, hoping to sneak meaningful reforms back into the process. In the House, Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York refused to support the bill passed by the commerce committee unless he was allowed to attach an amendment that will enable Congress to vote on replacing the entire reform bill with a single-payer plan (Bernie Sanders is working on a similar measure in the Senate). On the labor committee, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio took a more nuanced tack, offering an amendment that would free up states to switch to a single-payer system of their own.

It's highly unlikely, though, that the party's leaders will agree to include such measures when the five competing reform bills are eventually combined. On the House side, "Pelosi has unfettered discretion to combine the bills as she pleases," observes one Democratic aide. Which leaves us where we are today, as Congress enjoys its vacation, and the various sides have taken to the airwaves in an advertising blitz to make sure the population is saturated with idiotic misconceptions before the bill is actually voted on in the fall.

The much-ballyhooed right-wing scare campaign, with its teabagger holdovers ridiculously disrupting town-hall meetings with their belligerent protests and their stoneheaded memes (the sign raised at a town hall held by Rep. Rick Larson of Washington — keep the guvmint out of my medicare — is destined to become a classic of conservative propaganda), has proved to be almost totally irrelevant to the entire enterprise. Aside from lowering even further the general level of civility (teabaggers urged Sen. Chris Dodd to off himself with painkillers; Rep. Brad Miller had his life threatened), the Limbaugh minions have accomplished nothing at all, except to look like morons for protesting as creeping socialism a reform effort designed specifically to change as little as possible and to preserve at all costs our malfunctioning system of private health care.

All that's left of health care reform is a collection of piece-of-shit, weakling proposals that are preposterously expensive and contain almost nothing meaningful — and that set of proposals, meanwhile, is being negotiated down even further by the endlessly negating Group of Six. It is a fight to the finish now between Really Bad and Even Worse. And it's virtually guaranteed to sour the public on reform efforts for years to come.

"They'll pass some weak, mediocre plan that breaks the bank and even in the best analysis leaves 37 million people uninsured," says Mokhiber, one of the single-payer activists arrested by Baucus. "It's going to give universal health care a bad name."

It's a joke, the whole thing, a parody of Solomonic governance. By the time all the various bills are combined, health care will be a baby not split in half but in fourths and eighths and fractions of eighths. It's what happens when a government accustomed to dealing on the level of perception tries to take on a profound emergency that exists in reality. No matter how hard Congress may try, though, it simply is not possible to paper over a crisis this vast.

Then again, some of the blame has to go to all of us. It's more than a little conspicuous that the same electorate that poured its heart out last year for the Hallmark-card story line of the Obama campaign has not been seen much in this health care debate. The handful of legislators — the Weiners, Kuciniches, Wydens and Sanderses — who are fighting for something real should be doing so with armies at their back. Instead, all the noise is being made on the other side. Not so stupid after all — they, at least, understand that politics is a fight that does not end with the wearing of a T-shirt in November."


[From Issue 1086 — September 3, 2009]: Rolling Stone

Check out Matt Taibbi's blog for updates on this story and more.

December 15, 2009

Senate Democrats Likely to Drop Medicare Expansion
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders said Monday that they were prepared to drop a proposed expansion of Medicare and make other changes in sweeping health legislation as they tried to rally their caucus in hopes of passing the bill before Christmas.

After a tense 90-minute meeting on Monday evening, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, was asked if Democrats were likely to jettison the Medicare proposal.

“It’s looking like that’s the case,” Mr. Baucus said, indicating that the provision might be scrapped as a way of “getting support from 60 senators.”

Under the proposal, uninsured people ages 55 to 64 could purchase Medicare coverage. The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, floated the idea about 10 days ago as a way to break an intraparty impasse over his earlier proposal to create a government-run health insurance plan.

The signal from the party leadership came after the closed-door session to gauge sentiment for moving ahead with a pared-back measure that would not contain elements that liberal lawmakers had sought, particularly a public health insurance option.

Lawmakers and top aides said that the overriding view at the session held just off the Senate floor was that they had come too far in the health care debate to give up and that they should forge ahead with some legislation even if it was not all that they wanted.

After the meeting, lawmakers said they believed that chances were increased for completing a health care bill and that a final product would be a substantial improvement over the current system.

“If you compared it to the alternative, it looks good,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, about the prospect of moving ahead with a measure that does not have a public health insurance option. “If you compare it to the possibilities, it looks pretty sad.”

Democrats were scheduled to meet Tuesday at the White House with President Obama to discuss health care. The party meeting in the Capitol came at a crucial time since the leadership must begin taking procedural steps if Democrats hope to reach a final vote on a health care plan sometime next week.

At a brief news conference after the caucus meeting, Mr. Reid refused to answer questions. He said: “This is like a steeplechase race. The last big puddle is in front of us.”

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the health committee, appeared to be laying the groundwork for a decision to abandon the Medicare buy-in.

“There is enough good in this bill that we ought to move it” even without the Medicare buy- in, Mr. Harkin said. Among the most important provisions of the bill, he said, are stringent new federal regulation of health insurance and coverage for a wide range of preventive health services.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, said, “If dropping the Medicare expansion is necessary, that’s what should be done.” He reported that “there was some disappointment by some members that some of the provisions could not be retained.”

The idea of expanding Medicare to cover younger members of the public ran into trouble this weekend when Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, indicated he would not vote for that proposal. Given the need for Democrats to keep Mr. Lieberman in the fold, Democrats sought to find ways to ease his objections. Mr. Lieberman and Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska and another potential Democratic defector, were both in the private meeting but did not speak, lawmakers said.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched parties earlier this year to become a Democrat, urged his colleagues not to let obstructionists stand in the way. “I came to this caucus to be your 60th vote,” he said to a round of applause, according to observers. Democrats need 60 votes to pass the health care bill over Republican objections.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

December 14, 2009
Lieberman Rules Out Voting for Health Bill
New York Times

WASHINGTON — In a surprise setback for Democratic leaders, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, said on Sunday that he would vote against the health care legislation in its current form.

The bill’s supporters had said earlier that they thought they had secured Mr. Lieberman’s agreement to go along with a compromise they worked out to overcome an impasse within the Democratic Party.

But on Sunday, Mr. Lieberman told the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, to scrap the idea of expanding Medicare and abandon any new government insurance plan or lose his vote.

On a separate issue, Mr. Reid tried over the weekend to concoct a compromise on abortion that would induce Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, to vote for the bill. Mr. Nelson opposes abortion. Any provision that satisfies him risks alienating supporters of abortion rights.

In interviews on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Nelson said the bill did not have the 60 votes it would need in the Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders, including Mr. Reid and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, said they had been mindful of Mr. Lieberman’s concerns in the last 10 days and were surprised when he assailed major provisions of the bill on television Sunday. He reiterated his objections in a private meeting with Mr. Reid.

A Senate Democratic aide, perplexed by Mr. Lieberman’s stance, said, “It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do.”

Democrats are desperately trying to round up 60 votes and conclude Senate debate on the health care bill before Christmas.

Mr. Reid could not immediately figure out how to achieve that goal at a meeting he held Sunday with senior Democratic senators and White House officials, including Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, according to Senate Democratic aides.

Marshall H. Wittmann, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman, said the Connecticut senator “notified Senator Reid on Friday that he had severe misgivings about the Medicare buy-in proposal, so his comments on ‘Face the Nation’ should not have come as a surprise to the leadership.”

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that passage of the bill was looking less and less inevitable. The Democrats “are in serious trouble on this,” he said, “and the core problem is the American people do not want us to pass it.”

On television Sunday, Mr. Lieberman said: “We’ve got to stop adding to the bill. We’ve got to start subtracting some controversial things. I think the only way to get this done before Christmas is to bring in some Republicans who are open-minded on this, like Olympia Snowe.”

Senator Snowe, of Maine, has tried to find common ground with Democrats, but has rejected Mr. Reid’s proposal to let uninsured people 55 to 64 years old purchase coverage under Medicare.

“You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in,” Mr. Lieberman said. “You’ve got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit.”

Class Act refers to a federal insurance program for long-term care, known as the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act.

Mr. Lieberman said he would have “a hard time” voting for a bill with the Medicare buy-in.

“It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did,” he said. “It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It’s unnecessary. The basic bill, which has a lot of good things in it, provides a generous new system of subsidies for people between ages 55 and 65, and choice and competition.”

Mr. Nelson said he wanted to know the cost of the Medicare buy-in. “I am concerned that it’s the forerunner of single payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option,” he said.

Mr. Lieberman said: “The bill itself does a lot to bring 30 million people into the system. We don’t need to keep adding onto the back of this horse, or we’re going to break the horse’s back and get nothing done.”

Even if Senate Democratic leaders were prepared to meet Mr. Lieberman’s demands, they would still need to resolve intraparty disputes over insurance coverage for abortion.

Aides to Mr. Reid met Saturday with advocates of abortion rights to explore ideas for a compromise.

Details were sketchy. Under one idea, some health plans receiving federal subsidies could offer optional coverage for abortion, but they could not use federal money to pay for the procedure. They would have to use money taken from premiums paid by subscribers and would have to keep it separate from federal money.

Critics of abortion say such requirements for the segregation of funds are an accounting gimmick.

In hopes of placating opponents of abortion, Mr. Reid is also considering an increase in the federal tax credit for adoption of children and a new program to provide services to pregnant high school and college students.

Both ideas were proposed by Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who opposes abortion but generally supports the overall bill.

“Many teens and women who face an unplanned pregnancy do so with little or no support,” Mr. Casey said.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company