Wednesday, March 3, 2010


"I'm rubber, you're glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." "I know you

are, but what am I?" If you have ever had yard duty at an elementary school, you will hear these

phrases and many others when kids get into arguments but aren't interested in resolving

anything. You could have heard the adult equivalent if you watched C-Span and listened to

the exchanges between President Obama and his Republican counterparts.

The Republicans walked into Blair House armed with lots of "show and tell" and lots of

talking points provided by their Contract With America pollster, Frank Luntz. Minority whip,

Representative Eric Cantor, brought along the 2400 page healthcare reform bill passed by the

House and Senate. According to Cantor, the length of the bill means that it can't possibly

accomplish anything meaningful and the whole thing should be scrapped. Starting over was

a popular talking point as was "step by step...government takeover...done behind closed doors".

Senator John McCain thought he was still campaigning, but left Sarah Palin behind this time.

It seems he still wants to reargue his presidential bid, still miffed at having lost.

What the Republicans did not come up with was a proposal of their own. In over six hours

of discussion, the Republicans offered no comprehensive alternative for fixing our healthcare

system which is most definitely broken. Instead, they went for sound bites which appeal to

their base and to the tea baggers threatening their right flank. They told us that "...Americans

can't afford this bill and this bill will force Americans to give up their own health insurance...

and Americans have already rejected this bill". Lots of talk, but nothing even remotely

resembling a plan to fix healthcare or the problem of rising costs; not to mention the over

30 million Americans currently without insurance.

It's not that the Republicans don't have any ideas, they do. The ranking Republican on

the House Budget Committee says the answer is to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

This would mean that if you are under 55, you won't get Medicare. Instead, you would get

an individual private health insurance account into which you would contribute in the hope

that it would grow enough to cover healthcare costs throughout your golden years. This isn't

likely if healthcare costs continue to rise. These are the same Republicans who wanted to put

everyone's Social Security benefits in the stock market, a poor bet unless you're a gambler.

Now they want to hand billions to the healthcare companies exempted from the balancing

factors of competition. It's pure greed politics.

They have other ideas too. They want to let health insurance companies sell their policies

across state lines. Sound good? Not so! This would allow them to create even bigger

monopolies than they currently possess and allow them to headquarter in the state with

the least amount of regulations and consumer protection. It would be a race to the bottom

in terms of quality and quantity. Oddly, Obama sounded sympathetic to this idea, but only if

the health insurance industry lost their exemption from anti-trust laws and broke up their

monopolies once and for all. Conciliation? There's been no evidence of conciliation, it's

just another talking heads show.

Republicans like to trot out their desire to prevent people from suing doctors for

malpractice. We weren't disappointed. They called this horse of many colors "tort reform"

this time around. It wouldn't prevent a company from suing you or another corporation and

it wouldn't prevent insurance companies from forcing you to go to arbitration rather than

suing (as Kaiser does). Most importantly, it wouldn't do anything to rein in costs. States

like California, and others, put a cap on malpractice awards years ago. Yet, just recently,

the nation's largest health insurance company announced a 41% increase in premiums in

California; and lawsuits against doctors weren't even mentioned as a reason for premium


Rep. Cantor said most Americans are happy with their health insurance coverage, but

are mostly concerned that they can't afford the premiums. BINGO! Equally worrisome is

that Americans are justifiably scared of seeing their insurance cancelled because of sickness.

They're worried their children will be kicked off the family policy before the kids find

medically-covered jobs or can afford to buy their own coverage. They are worried a pre-

existing condition will prevent them from finding the new insurance they need because they

lost their job and with it the employer-provided health coverage. They are worried about

being driven into bankruptcy by a serious illness, a situation made worse by a Congress who

made it harder to go bankrupt and harder to discharge your debts (meaning that you lose

everything). They are worried that as healthcare costs skyrocket, the country won't be able

to afford Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits, Veteran's Healthcare, Children's

Healthcare, and lose Community Health Centers. They are worried healthcare costs could

command over 20% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Rep. Cantor is right. Americans

like the coverage they have; but they are scared to death of what is coming in the future and

whether they can afford it or survive it.

The Republicans showed up at Blair House with nothing except a time-tested political

strategy. They made the political calculation that opposing Obama's plan will reap rewards

in the 2010 midterm elections if they can stoke the anti-Washington fervor. Easily done,

all things considered, if they can paint the Democrats as being insiders incapable of governing

while positioning themselves as the champions of the "just say no" school of politics. They

see no upside in making an alternative proposal to the President. They see no reason to do

the one thing that would bring costs under control, broaden available coverage, and save

billions of dollars over the next ten years...namely, inject competition into the system.

What a novel thought! Simply introduce good old free market capitalism into the healthcare

industry. Rescind the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies and make them

compete with each other. Set up a public exchange and give Americans an option for the

first time. Unfortunately, the party of Wall Street, deregulation, and free markets does not

want to apply any of their expertise to the healthcare field.

Never was it more evident how much this debate needed Senator Edward Kennedy. While

Obama made a fair showing as he stood before his opponents at Blair House; in reality, he was

a shadow of the power Kennedy would have brought to the table. Kennedy would have

hammered Cantor and Alexander and would have left John Boehner looking for a new tanning

booth to brown his scorched hide. So...what happened to the Democrats ability to tell a good

story and sell it? What happened to their passion and leadership? What happened to their

ability to articulate a position that most Americans can get behind and then fight for its

realization? They will now pursue a strategy which may avoid the filibuster in the Senate,

but their inability to tell the real story about the costs of doing nothing about healthcare has

hurt them badly. And if that's not bad enough, the corporate media has announced Obama

made a mistake with this summit. By pronouncing the Republicans the winners, they are

repeating the Republican criticism of the President being "...too professorial, lecturing to

people who don't need a lecture...someone who can't connect with the average gum-chewing

American". Corporate media companies don't want healthcare reform to pass because they

benefit from the status quo. As you watch the coverage, remember how much money they

save if nothing changes. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

Please send them to


  1. "While it refuses to push for the public option, the White House is attempting to muscle through several measures that have almost no political support within the Democratic caucus and, in fact, are vociferously opposed." -Ryan Grim

  2. Keep posting, everyday if possible
    Thanks Bernie

  3. maybe its that one fruitcake who used to call Bernie with his brainless crap. i think Happy was the name he used.
    well he must like Bernie and us,. he cant leave the website alone.
    love you bernie.
    great job here btw.

  4. Bernie
    coming in to this column late but in time to celebrate with you and all the other sane caring citizens a major victory with the Health Care passage, as imperfect as it is, in face of the collective stupidity and insensitivity, racism and hate filled lies festered by the republican lemmings...obviously having their money purse strings pulled by Wall Street and the insurance companies and corporations, all of whom are completely un American and money grubbing self centered small minded.....
    Take care and keep thinking and writing and praying. You are more productive where you are than all those moneyed republicans who can't contribute one positive idea or program for the country. Where did these guys come from?

  5. Lion,
    Keep up the great writing, as much as you guys were different I used to love the Monday evening debates with you and Lee Rodgers. Now THAT was simulating radio, to say nothing of its educational value which is so sorely needed these days. I'll be looking forward to hearing you again soon, all the best!