Health Care Reform: WTF Just Happened? The Left Weighs In
The reaction to Obama’s Health Care Reform fiasco is getting rather explosive on the Left. There seems to be somewhat of a prevailing sentiment that Obama’s Administration bears the lions’ share of the blame for Lieberman and Blue Dog intransigence. Here’s some of the reactions:
Sam Stein from the Huffington Post is reporting that two of the country’s largest labor groups, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO, are holding emergency meetings, and are hinting they will formally oppose the ‘Lieberman-friendly’ bill. He described the labor leaders as “fuming at the concessions that Democratic leadership made in the last few days to win the support of the caucus’s most conservative members, notably Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)” Listen to how one high-ranking labor official described who is to blame for this mess:
“What is really frustrating folks here is that it’s impossible to make and implement plans to pressure senators when the White House and Reid keep undermining the efforts no one from the outside can put any credible pressure on Senators because they know the White House will back that Senator up whatever they do. If the White House is going to cave to a Senator who spent the entire election campaigning with McCain and calling Obama a traitor how are we supposed to have any leverage over anyone?
“If Lieberman — who has done so many horrible things directly to Obama — can get away with this on Obama’s signature issue it makes it infinitely harder for us to pressure senators, on issues in the future, because there is no fear of retribution or coercion from the White House. They only pressure progressives, not anyone in the middle.”
Here’s the President of the United Steel Workers, Leo Gerard, who gives President Obama the benefit of the doubt, by calling him naive, and suggesting he “got hoodwinked” by the Health Insurance Industry. Leo, no offense, but I don’t think Obama is the one showing naivete. He goes on to state:
“I can tell you this — point blank — if we don’t get a meaningful health care bill that reduces costs and has everybody in and doesn’t have an excise tax, has a pay or play for employers, has a public option, or a medicare buy-in, we’re not gonna campaign for any Democrat that voted against this bill, and we’re going to go out and try and defeat them.”
I think Glenn Greenwald has BRILLIANTLY NAILED what’s been going on here, as he usually does. He doesn’t buy that Obama and Rahm Emanuel got bested, due to some sort of naivete. He believes they got EXACTLY the health care bill they always wanted, and shows how they had no problem flexing muscle to get legislation through the Houses in the past when it was something important to them:
Indeed, we’ve seen before what the White House can do — and does do — when they actually care about pressuring members of Congress to support something they genuinely want passed. When FDL and other liberal blogs led an effort to defeat Obama’s war funding bill back in June, the White House became desperate for votes, and here is what they apparently did (though they deny it):
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday. “We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
That’s what the White House can do when they actually care about pressuring someone to vote the way they want. Why didn’t they do any of that to the “centrists” who were supposedly obstructing what they wanted on health care? Why didn’t they tell Blanche Lincoln — in a desperate fight for her political life — that she would “never hear from them again,” and would lose DNC and other Democratic institutional support, if she filibustered the public option? Why haven’t they threatened to remove Joe Lieberman’s cherished Homeland Security Chairmanship if he’s been sabotaging the President’s agenda? Why hasn’t the President been rhetorically pressuring Senators to support the public option and Medicare buy-in, or taking any of the other steps outlined here by Adam Green? There’s no guarantee that it would have worked — Obama is not omnipotent and he can’t always control Congressional outcomes — but the lack of any such efforts is extremely telling about what the White House really wanted here.
Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake weighs in with similar sentiments on the Administration:
“They were very good at making it look like they wanted a public option in the final bill without actually doing anything to make it happen,” said Jane Hamsher, publisher of the liberal blog Firedoglake. “It’s hard to believe that the two most powerful people in the country — arguably the world — could not do more to achieve their desired objective than to hand the keys over to Joe Lieberman. They would not be where they are if they are that bad at negotiation.”
Digby weighs in:
There are not a lot of good reasons why [Obama] wouldn’t use the power of his popularity when his numbers were stratospheric to insist on something other than cost controls. One can only assume he didn’t want to.
Even I knew that the Senate was full of a bunch of prima donnas who had to be deftly handled and given a tremendous amount of attention and engagement when you try to do something big. That’s just how it works in that chamber, especially when Democrats are in the majority. It was never going to be easy. But the president had a tremendous amount of good will and political power when he came into office and indicated from the beginning that instead of pushing through his agenda quickly and efficiently he would have the congress to “take the lead” and only inject himself when it was necessary to consecrate some (preferably bipartisan) compromise. That’s a recipe for slow action and bad legislation.
The president may not have the singular power to enact good domestic policy, but he is the only one with the power and public backing to knock heads and lead in his own party. And if the best he can do in that regard is tell the Democrats that they need to “protect him” by passing any bill, well, that’s pretty weak.
Most surprising of all, is the candor coming from Democratic politicians themselves. No more putting a nice spin on things, for the sake of the President. They are pulling-no-punches:
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) told POLITICO:
“It’s ridiculous, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines. That’s nonsense. The White House has been useless,” he said.
“Snowe? Stupak? Lieberman? Who left these people in charge? It’s time for the President to get his hands dirty. Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the President to stand up for the values our party shares. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog of this debate.”
Senator Feingold weighed in to The Hill:
“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,” said Feingold.
Here’s what John Conyers had to say about it:
“The president keeps listening to Rahm Emanuel,” he said. “He doesn’t listen to” the Congressional Black Caucus.
As for the Senate health care bill, Conyers went through a list of defeats: “No public option, no extending Medicare to 55, no nothing, an excise tax, God! The insurance lobby is taking over.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
“Since the Senate won’t use reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes, it doesn’t look promising for any real change.” Grijalva said he would vote against the Senate bill unless the House is able to make significant changes in conference.
Rep. Peter DeFazio:
“There is unbelievable frustration with the Senate,” he said. “The Senate is a graveyard. They could run the place with 50 or 51 votes, but they don’t want to hurt the club,” he said. “They are relying on people like Joe Lieberman, who was thrown out of the Democratic Party by the voters of his state, to tell the Democratic Party what its agenda is. That’s a very sad state of affairs.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey:
“Thirty percent of Democrats will not come out and vote if there is no public option in the health care bill,” she said. “What does that tell you?”
I think it’s safe to conclude that Obama and Emanuel have effectively divided the Democratic Party in two. Instead of applying an iota of pressure on Lieberman and the Blue Dogs they are doing the very opposite: hitting back at the base. Note: I didn’t say “hitting back at liberals or the ‘Left Wing of the Party’,” because 88% of ALL Democrats still favor a public option, as does 60% of ALL Americans.
The President has effectively been undermining the popular will of his own party AND country, and he’s furious that everyone isn’t bending over, and giving him his ‘political victory’.
Progressive Reactions To The Senate’s Public-Option Compromise
While the Congressional Budget Office reviews the Senate’s new health care reform proposal, the key players are remaining tight-lipped about its details. But news organizations are piecing together from their sources what this public option compromise is beginning to look like.
Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC’s “Morning Meeting” outlined some key components he’s uncovered of the new Senate proposal:
1. Private Health Insurers Offer Non-Profit Plans On Government Exchange:
“It encourages private ensurers to offer non-profit plans that will be negotiated by the federal government, and sold on exchanges that are regulated and run out of Washington. So imagine you’re a for-profit insurance company, now you’re going to be told to run a non-profit insurance plan to compete with yourself.”
2. Trigger Option For Public Plan
“The threat to get them to do this [administer non-profit plans] would be the creation of a government plan which would be a greater threat to obliterate them if they don’t do it, because obviously you don’t want to open a non-profit to compete with yourself unless your only alternative is obliteration.”
3. Expands Medicare / Allows Buy-In
“The deal also lets the uninsured in this country buy into Medicare once they turn 55. […] Reid says there is a public option in there, but many Progressives may disagree with this.”
Here’s some of the initial feedback, thus far, by pro-public option progressives:
THUMBS UP: Howard Dean spoke to the Huffington Post about the new proposal:
The former Vermont governor called the decision to allow consumers between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy Medicare coverage “a big step forward.”
“It opens up Medicare and gives people a real choice,” he said. “And secondly it does something that should have been done the whole way along: instead of creating a new bureaucracy it just uses the one we already have.”
“I’m not a fan of the private market, as you know. However, the private market does work in two countries, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and the way it works is by substantial regulation… If, in fact, this is basically going to be run as if it were the federally employee benefit plan, than this can work. The [Office of Personnel Management] knows how to run this plan and I’ve almost never heard anything bad of the federal employee benefit program.”
“There doesn’t have to be a public option in the bill because I’m some sort of ideological socialist,” he said of his support for a government-run insurance provider. “There had to be a public option because the private sector doesn’t work. And if they can make it work [without a public option], then let’s see.”
“The criteria that I use to evaluate the various proposals is; ‘Is it reform?'” Dean concluded. “And this is reform.”
“I’m disposed towards this,” he said. “It was part of my platform when I ran for president. But look at this. It makes sense. Why have two bureaucracies, including one who hasn’t run this before [the Department of Health and Human Services]… when you can use Medicare?”
THUMBS UP on many aspects of proposal: Senator Bernie Sanders stated last night:
“What you’re looking at is tradeoffs which, in fact, at the end of the day, may be stronger than the very weak public options,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. “The other part of the tradeoff…may also be an expansion of Medicaid. And if you add to Medicaid the development of many new community health centers, you will be providing a lot more health care access to lower income people. If you do an opt-in for people 55 years of age through Medicare, you’re also providing a significant benefit,” Sanders added.
THUMBS DOWN: Senator Russell Feingold issued a statement immediately following the meeting last night:
“While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach,” he said. He added, however, that he will base his vote “on the entirety of what is in the bill, and whether I think the bill is good for Wisconsin.”
THUMBS UP: Senator Rep. Anthony Weiner issued a statement:
“Last night, my Democratic colleagues in the Senate struck a deal that will help us move health care reform forward in the Senate. The details are still sketchy, but there is one remarkable element of the emerging plan: the expansion of the smart single-payer health care plan that serves over 43 million Americans—Medicare.
Extending this successful program to those between 55 and 64, a plan I proposed in July, would be the largest expansion of Medicare in 44 years and would perhaps get us on the path to a single payer model. Medicare provides health care to all Americans over 65 and has an overhead of barely 1 percent. In a debate that hasn’t focused enough on how to genuinely contain costs and deliver affordable health care, this is one idea I like a lot.”
THUMBS UP: Sen. Jay Rockefeller said:
“I’ve got a smile on my face. I don’t smile naturally.”
THUMBS DOWN: Sen. Roland Burris is threatening a filibuster from the left:
“If we have to get 60 and it comes back and it does not have a public option in it, I will not vote for it. It will still take 60 votes to pass it. If we don’t pass a meaningful health care reform bill in this session, we are all going to hang separately,” Burris said. “I’ve listened to my constituents.” He added, “Understand that I have drawn a line in the sand. I’m not much of a dealmaker in this regard.”
Here’s some of the noise emanating from the progressive blogosphere:
THUMBS DOWN: Jame Hamsher of FireDogLake doesn’t like it.
THUMBS DOWN: Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos doesn’t like it. In responding to an email from Obama, Markos says:
Really? All we have to do is send the DNC $5 and we get ponies? The same DNC that is enabling corporatist Democrats to water down and destroy any hope for health care reform? That DNC?
This is so freakin’ obnoxious I can hardly stand it. We are about to get a turd of a “reform” package, potentially worse than the status quo. We have the insurance industry declaring victory, Republicans cackling with glee, and the administration is using that piece of shit to raise money?
Obama spent all year enabling Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe, and he thinks we’re supposed to get excited about whatever end result we’re about to get, so much so that we’re going to fork over money? Well, it might work with some of you guys, but I’m certainly not biting. In fact, this is insulting, betraying a lack of understanding of just how pissed the base is at this so-called reform. The administration may be happy to declare victory with a mandate that enriches insurance companies, yet creates little incentive to control costs or change the very business practices that have screwed so many people. But I’ll pass.
Democrats are demoralized, and have little incentive to turn out next year. The teabaggers will turn out. If this is how the Obama camp thinks we can energize the base — by promising them a health care pony for $5 to the same Democratic Party that is home to the likes of Baucus, Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman, and the rest of the obstructionist gang — then we’re in for a world of hurt in 2010.
THUMBS SOMEWHAT UP (over the long haul): Matthew Yglesias writes:
… what the Senate has been negotiating over is the availability of a not-so-hot public option. Still better than nothing, but not transformative, not a game-changer. The Senate’s deal has watered this down even further, involving a sort-of co-op idea plus a triggered public option under circumstances where it’ll be very difficult to ever pull the trigger. Disappointing.
But there’s an important ray of hope here: The compromise will allow people to buy into Medicare. This, in essence, is a version of the original public option idea from before it got watered-down—a nationwide program linked to Medicare. The bad news is that the availability of the buy-in will be limited. People under the age of 55 won’t be able to buy in. And buy-ins will be limited to people on the exchange. As Chris Bowers points out this means the expansion won’t impact very many people “this public option ‘compromise’ would only cover 1.08 million Americans, or only about 25-33% of what the opt-out public option would have done.”
That’s correct. But there’s an important caveat to that. Anything limited to the exchange won’t impact most Americans very much even when reform goes online in 2014. But the exchanges will get much bigger over time. Part of what’s going on in the United States is that the employer-based health insurance system is slowly unraveling. Both the House and Senate versions of reform consist not only of using exchanges to cover the currently uninsured, but also using exchanges to construct a kind of safety net so that as employer-based insurance continues to unravel, people will land softly in exchangeland rather than crashing into the rough ground of the current individual insurance market. The Senate bill will slightly accelerate the decline of employer-based insurance by slowly phasing out the tax subsidy for such insurance. […]
So in addition to pushing for expansion of the buy-in to people outside the exchange, it’s also worth pushing for accelerated opening of the exchange to more-and-more people. In the long run, of course, it’ll also be necessary to fight for further lowering of the age threshold.
RESERVING JUDGMENT FOR NOW: Digby writes:
I believe that had Obama and Reid really been committed to the public option they probably could have found a way to finesse Lieberman long before now. There is no doubt that the only reason Lieberman did this was to fuck the liberals. Hard. It’s obviously become his life’s purpose.
We’ll know details soon. Right now it sounds like everyone is still confused, so there’s no need to get too excited or angry or anything else. Rockefeller’s attitude bodes well. And I saw Bernie Sanders on Maddow and he seemed quite jolly, although he reiterated his pledge to not vote for any bill that didn’t have a public option. So, we’ll see.
THUMBS UP: Ezra Klein writes:
The national non-profits are not exactly like, but not that far from, the compromised public plan in the House version of the bill. They won’t be publicly run, but with the OPM regulating them tightly and carefully choosing which offerings are accepted into the market, the impact might not be that different in practice. They have the advantages of offering a single product nationally and being freed from the profit motive, both of which were key to the theory of the weaker public option. Indeed, they’re like publicly-regulated utilities more than private plans. These look a lot like the semi-private insurers that function well in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, among others.
Meanwhile, the Medicare buy-in lets people in the broader insurance market see what national bargaining power can do for individual premiums. Right now, Medicare’s rates are largely hidden, as no one pays the full premiums, and so no one can really compare it to private offerings. But if the premiums become visible, and Medicare’s superior bargaining power is capable of offering rates 20 to 30 percent lower than its private competitors can muster, we’ll see how long it is before representatives begin getting calls from 50-year-olds who’d like the opportunity to exchange money in return for insurance as good as what 55-year-olds can get.
My personal take:
Call me cynical, but the idea of placing perhaps the single most corrupt and immoral industry on the planet — the health insurance industry — in charge of administering non-profit plans is like hiring Pol Pot as bus driver at a private, elite, prep school. And if the Blue Dogs go along with this and sign on, then I’ll have to assume that the health insurance industry has found a way to work around it (i.e. there will be something in the bill that will allow them to base non-profit — probably subsidized — premiums on costs which the industry will be allowed to arbitrarily inflate).
The question that should be getting asked is this: If there are to be non-profit plans on a government exchange (for those who can’t afford health insurance) then wouldn’t Medicare be the most logical choice for administering them, since they are already administering non-profit plans? Since Medicare’s administrative expenses tend to be lower than the health insurance industry’s, it would be cheaper to allow Medicare to administer the plans. It makes no sense to put the corrupt and inefficient health insurance industry in charge of this function, which leads me to believe there’s some kind of fix in the works.
At some point, this cancerous industry wedged between patient and doctor will have to be surgically removed, and the longer it takes for our representatives to confront this reality, the more pain I fear is ahead of us.
THUMBS DOWN: Ed Schultz of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” is adamantly against this new compromise.
Ed’s guests both give THUMBS DOWN: Editor of The Nation Katrina Vanden Heuvel and former Cigna VP Wendell Potter. See the clip here:
THUMBS UP: Rep. Alan Grayson seems to like the compromise:
Technorati Claim: GRR82NPHT8BW
Bill Clinton Turns ‘Politicizing’ Charge On Its Head, As He Turns His Back On The Uninsured
Former President Bill Clinton disclosed to Firedoglake last Thursday that he would not attend a free medical clinic in Arkansas organized by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann — an event which would be attended by well over 1,000 uninsured Arkansans needing medical attention — because he claims that Olbermann had “politicized the event.”
The event went on to save many lives:
Saturday’s free health clinic at the Statehouse Convention Center treated more than 1,000 uninsured Arkansas residents with a variety of health problems, many of them serious. More than 90 percent were diagnosed with three or more life-threatening conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and pulmonary disease.
Seven people had such serious conditions that physicians decided they should be taken immediately by ambulances to local hospital emergency departments. Of those, five were admitted to hospitals for cardiac reasons, and two of them had had recent hearts attacks of which they were unaware.
Clinton revealed to Eve Gittelson (of Firedoglake) that he considered the free clinic to be sort of a kick-off primary against Blanche Lincoln — the Blue Dog AR Senator who opposes the public option, and who had threatened to filibuster the Senate health care reform bill with the Republicans to keep the legislation from getting an up or down vote (Note: she did ultimately vote for cloture on Saturday, allowing the bill to be debated on the floor).
Bill Clinton effectively turned his back on helping to bring attention to the uninsured (the clinic exposed the sheer number of uninsured — who they are — and the severity of their untreated medical conditions) as a display of political solidarity with Blue Dog Democrat Blanche Lincoln; this Blanche Lincoln:
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lincoln has received $325,350 in contributions from the health industry, as of June 30. […]
One of Lincoln�s biggest contributors this cycle is the insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company�s political action committee and employees have combined to give the senator $29,500 this year alone. Blue Cross Blue Shield and their parent company Wellpoint are vocal opponents of the inclusion of a public option plan in any health care reform bill. Blue Cross Blue Shield is the dominant insurer in Arkansas holding a 75 percent market share.
So Bill Clinton puts the interests of a bribed political crony above the best interests of 836,000 uninsured Arkansans, and as his excuse he charges those who organized the free life-saving health care clinics as having politicized the event? Sure, in addition to saving American lives, they politicized the event — only as far as helping to pressure obstructionists, like Blanche Lincoln, from ensuring these 836,000 Arkansans remain uninsured. Only as far as shining a light on how American citizens are being left untreated for life-threatening conditions while corrupt politicians get bribed by the very industry reaping obscene profits from such a system.
Politicians, like Bill Clinton, are so political — so corrupted — that I’m convinced that in his narcissistic, partisan, elitist world he and others like him probably actually believe that his shunning the event was somehow a principled stance against ‘politics as usual’.
The Paul-Grayson Amendment To Audit The Fed Passes With Bipartisan Support
Yesterday, the Paul-Grayson Amendment “was approved by the House Finance Committee with an overwhelming and bipartisan 43-26 vote on Thursday afternoon despite harried last-minute lobbying from top Fed officials and the surprise opposition of Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who had previously been a supporter.” As reported by Ryan Grim @ Huffington Post: The measure, cosponsored […]