Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Health Care Reform: Gone Baby Gone

fAt this point, whatever chance there was for a single payer or 'robust public option' health care plan is now dead. It was killed, murdered even, in no small part because of those conservative members of the Democratic Party, particularly in the Senate, who slit its throat and threw it to the ditch for a few gold pieces from the insurance lobby. If anyone still thinks that Barack Obama is going to bring 'change,' you need to look no further than the spinelessness that was his leadership, or the lack thereof, alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Even by the standards of past Democratic presidents, it was unbelievably weak.

One could only fathom what would have happened to Joseph Lieberman if Lyndon Johnson were in the White House. Surely, the Texan with the mostest would have invited the blue dog from the Northeast to a private meeting at his residence, to be greeted by a fully naked Johnson swimming in his private pool (a habit of LBJ's to cajole recalcitrant senators), shook his hand with his wet palms, with nothing more than the air gusting his extremities in front of Bill Bennett's close friend, and a hearty hello before sitting the senator down and obliquely threatening to have his manhood removed and stuffed for good measure. By the time Joe left, he would either be in support of the bill or at least in knowledge that he was no longer in charge of the debate.

Say what you will about Johnson, but he knew how to get legislation passed, be it the Medicare and Medicaid Act, Economic Opportunity Act, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Act, etc., etc. But for his record on foreign policy (glaringly criminal thought it was), he would have gone down as one of the most accomplished chief executives in this country's history. By comparison, the men (and to this day they have been nothing else) who followed Johnson could barely hold his water. Carter was so dithering in his dealings with Congress, his Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan was barely on talking terms with the Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill (and they were from the same party). But for Congressional Republicans, especially on NAFTA and the Welfare Reform Act, Clinton would have been about as effective as Carter.

And now Barack Obama, yet another Democrat who spends virtually his entire time apologizing for it, and next to nothing doing anything of note for the constituencies he claims (if not in reality) to represent. Contrast Johnson to the sight of the current president of the free world caving in to 1/535's of Congress, simply because of the whims of this one person on an issue he is being openly sponsored by the opposition to that legislation. It would be wrong to put all or even most of this on Lieberman, however. Obama did not want real reform, be it the single payer or in hindsight the public option. The ultimate blame for this failure rests with the White House. Had he involved himself in the debate this last summer, had he spent as much time lobbying for health care reform as he did as a candidate-elect for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout last year, had he made a phone call and arm-twisted the pile of jello that is the Senate Majority Leader and had the House version of the bill put in reconciliation (avoiding a filibuster and what has taken place now), the legislation could have easily passed. He chose not to do any of the above. One could only interpret that it was the President's intention all along.

The health care debacle is but a microcosm of Obama's failures as president in his first year in office. Yes, I know, the Republicans are obstructionist, but the Democrats have (or soon had) 60 seats in the Senate, nearly 60% of the seats in the House, and a majority mandate in last November's elections. By any reasonable standard, the Democrats should have been able to pass legislation without much effort in Congress. It never happened and it failed for the same reasons the Democrats have always had problems--the pro-business "moderate" wing of the party (the part the right-wing claims is just as socialist and left-wing as anyone else for not having jumped ship and joined the Republican Party) has remained staunch opponents of reform legislation. Instead of serving the constituents of white Southern racists (who are mostly Republicans today), the blue dogs (like the DLC of the '90s) have turned themselves into repositories for business groups and lobbyists, as well as subsidiaries for campaign funds (on the condition that they vote their way on pertinent legislation). The business community smartly realized that it is much more profitable to subsidize a Max Baucus than to take out ads in The Wall Street Journal or Fox 'news.' Indeed, it is much easier to buy Senator Lieberman's wife, turn her into a lobbyist, and use her ties and campaign funds to make sure her husband does their bidding for them (knowing the White House will be supportive regardless). To say that the insurance industry's strategy has worked would be an understatement, even if it means getting the Senator from Connecticut to flip flop on the issue.

That is not the fault of the Republican Party, in spite of my own distaste for their reactionary ways. The Democrats killed themselves and have only themselves to blame for this. The Republicans merely sat on the sidelines, complained, and amusingly watched. And who can blame them? Here it was, the whole time they thought they might be faced with becoming a permanent second party after '08. After this, every single blue dog Democrat should be targeted for defeat, by the Democratic Party, and Rahm Emanuel, the blue dog Chief of Staff should be the first head to roll, as he was instrumental in getting the President to initially support the public option and then negotiate it away, while defending Lieberman and Nelson from Democratic critics during the entire diminutive process. And Emanuel would not be where he is but for the other person who helped kill this bill, Barack Obama. The Republicans are at least honest representatives of the upper 1% income tax bracket.

So, what should be done now? The truncated mess that is the current bill is nothing more than a subsidy to the health insurance companies. And the amendment that forces insurance companies to insure people with preexisting conditions means nothing because there will be no caps or limits on what they can charge, which obviously means that insurance companies will be charging people with preexisting conditions much, much more for their premiums. This is significant when you consider that about a third of the population has preexisting conditions. A majority are already overweight, which if it has not already will soon be declared a preexisting condition (it has in some cases). So, unless you are thin, do not smoke, drink, eat anything except granola, and remain unbelievably wealthy, within a generation there will be fewer Americans with health insurance. And your bills will continue to go up. If you have not noticed, insurance companies are already increasing your premiums now (a majority of them anyway, just in the last year). They no longer have the public option to blame, and you know good and well they will not be reducing costs, unless there is some entity there to tell them to (the same one you call when your house is on fire or a home invader, but apparently not when you are sick).

Just what kind of system of whorery do we have in the US? Those same HMO/health insurance lobbyists not only subsidize Congress. They write their health care speeches for them.

Impressively Evil: Health Care Lobbyists Busted Writing Speeches For Congress. Literally.

Heath Care Industry Rule Number Four Thousand and Eighty: DC lobbyists are shady. And exactly how shady are the lobbyists of Washington DC who worked both sides of the health are debate? They ghostwrote speeches for politicians lining their pockets.

I mean, I guess we shouldn't be shocked? It's generally been accepted and engendered as common knowledge that the health care industry—where people go to, you know, try to keep living—is among the most bottom-line profit centers in America. That bottom line, of course, being somewhere between your heartbeat and your wallet. I still find this one a little hard to get over, though: it's probably been going on for years, and it's no doubt common practice where it's exercised, but still. When people are as unabashedly, apologetically having their agendas literally written by multinational corporations, you have to wonder what it's gonna take for someone to throw the first Molotov Cocktail, figurative or otherwise.

The New York Times found emails proving that a subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical pusher Roche had their distributed talking points for both Democrats and Republicans printed in the Congressional Record under the names of 42 representatives. It was almost an even split: 22 Republicans, 20 Democrats.

This shit's just incredible. Watch this jackass blame it on his staff instead of making himself accountable:

In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said: "I regret that the language was the same. I did not know it was." He said he got his statement from his staff and "did not know where they got the information from."

Asshole. Now, you're probably wondering, well, come on, how blatant was this? They had to at least, I don't know, slip them pieces of paper, hard copies. I mean, this is the kind of thing that's only talked about at lobbyists firms, when they're wasted and jumping around with glee at making their money influential in politics! Right. Right?

In an e-mail message to fellow lobbyists on Nov. 5, two days before the House vote, Todd M. Weiss, senior managing director of Sonnenschein, said, "We are trying to secure as many House R's and D's to offer this/these statements for the record as humanly possible." He told the lobbyists to "conduct aggressive outreach to your contacts on the Hill to see if their bosses would offer the attached statements (or an edited version) for the record."

You're reading this correctly.

[Interlude: Can we get a #FuckYeahNYT? This is the fourth estate at their finest.]

So. Exactly how upset should we be about this? Because this isn't groundbreaking, this is just more proof that the scenario here is circumstantial. Lobbyists are running the rhetoric of Washington D.C., shamelessly, the more money they have behind them, the better they're doing.

Our elected officials are a bunch of clowns. Smart words written by smarter, better paid people are given to them. The words come out of their mouths. They get something in return. The chance to sound smart? Money? Who knows. Can we stop it? Can we make Washington a cleaner place where lawmakers aren't spoon-feeding the future of our country the poisonous horseshit that is a medical company's bottom line? And mind you: this is just one lobby. And one instance.

Is there any kind of indignation or recognition that this might be even—maybe, kinda, sorta—disingenuous and sociopathic behavior on behalf of our elected officials? Can Washington even recognize its own processes for what they are?

Asked about the Congressional statements, a lobbyist close to Genentech said: "This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious about it."

Right. So. You done with that bottle?

In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists' [NYT]

The libertarians are very happy by these turn of events. The largest donors to the Cato Institute are from the oil and insurance industries. Tom Coburn, the Senator from Oklahoma who has taken over a million dollars from health insurance companies and affiliated groups in his career, is extremely happy. Now his uninsured constituents can ask their neighbors for health care, as he advocated to this lady who had the gall to ask him in her hour of need.

Surely, that is what Jesus would have said.

And all of those angry white right militia types who showed up at presidential shindigs with their guns and advocating political violence can rest easily tonight. The evil guberment is not going to come and get them, at least not while the NSA is still cataloging all of their phone calls and internet activity, which none of them seemed to care about during the Bush Administration.

But the people, those 60 million un(der)insured Americans, 45,000 of whom will be dying this year because of Joseph Lieberman, Ben Nelson, the rest of the blue dog coalition, and the insurance lobby who bankrolled them, the blood of these victims should be on the hands of every last politician and insurance executive who opposes socialized medicine. Their actions in this debate enabled those coming deaths (10 times as many killed than US soldiers in Iraq, and over a bill that was cheaper than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Lieberman and the average Republican supports). For those uninsured and those in need, this is an unmitigated defeat.

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