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 firstname.lastname@example.org