Gee, that was fun, wasn’t it? 14 months of blithering, deal making, threats, cat calls and over the top, over heated anger and now we’ve got a health care reform package headed toward Obama and his signature. This has been ugly and if it had gone on another month or two, it would have only grown uglier. The Republicans failed to stop the movement forward, but they laid many traps along the way.
As with the phony impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Republicans figured they could win anyway the health care turned. If Obama’s massive package was rejected, they would present themselves as protectors of “American values” against the evils of socialism, communism, you name it. If, as it happened, it were to pass, they would have riled up enough people, made them fighting mad, to make certain they could take some of that anger and energy into the November congressional elections. Win/win, as they say.
The biggest fear of Republicans is not that health care reform would become law, the biggest fear is that it would be successful and really provide serious assistance to millions of Americans. Then, what can they do? The November elections are close enough that there won’t be much time to see the benefits in the program, so anger over results could win the day for Republicans in the short term. A few years out, they look like big losers and that might happen sooner as their reputation as the “party of no” settles in.
This “reform” legislation, in many ways, only confirms the status quo in American health care: most people are still going to have to rely on private insurance for medical coverage. The big benefit is that the insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and won’t be able to throw people off insurance once they become sick and need benefits. Rest assured, the insurance companies are working, right now, on their plans to deny or eliminate coverage anyway. In the future, you probably don’t ever want to be ten minutes late with a payment. Or, ten seconds late, for that matter.
The good news is that if you are kicked out of one health insurance plan, you might have an opportunity to get into another one, even if you are already sick. The idea of the government imposing conditions on insurance companies was part of what the Republicans were against. That’s how the insurance companies make their many billions: dropping coverage, denying coverage and limiting medical procedures. Now, they are going to have to try to figure out how to keep those billions flowing in within the limits of the legislation. We should be sooo concerned for them, right? Maybe they will only make half as many billions a few years from now.
WHO ARE THE LOSERS IN ALL OF THIS MESS?
To these eyes, everyone. Obama goofed big time in allowing Congress to debate endlessly about the shape, size and nature of the health care legislation. This meant we were treated to month after month of blabbing and backroom deal making. It also allowed the opposition to gin up its campaign, giving birth to what is called the “Tea Party”, which might otherwise be called the old grouch party. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) The opposition controlled and dominated the public debate almost from the start, 852 (or was it 8,520?) presidential interviews, news conferences, chats and speeches not withstanding.
The Democrats, disorganized and fighting against each other every step of the way, wasted far too much time coming up with the necessary compromises. Dear Lord, if this had been a ship in distress at sea, they would have decided the best way to reach port would be to cut the ship into a thousand pieces and let each piece try to get there on its own. Did anyone see how important this would be to the survival of the Democrats as the majority in Congress? Did anyone truly understand the historic significance of it all? Why couldn’t they make these deals months ago and spare us all, including themselves?
Ah, the Republicans. They have decided that being against everything is the only way to go. They are hoping to pull to themselves not only the dissatisfaction with the final health care bill, but dissatisfaction with everything: the economy, employment, taxes, the fact that the wind blows from the west, everything. If they don’t come off looking too stupid and too ugly in the process, it is not a bad plan. for them. My guess is, however, that if you could put “none of the above” on the ballot come November, it would sweep many offices by a landslide. The Republicans look good only if you agreed with them in advance and only if you’d rather see a giant fur ball coughed up by Congress than this bill.
DOES OBAMA GET CREDIT?
Maybe. Here’s the irony. He might have gained back lost ground in the eyes of many of his core supporters, but will those gains make up for his losses? The best thing in his favor is, thank heaven, this mess will be off the table soon and he can look forward to months ahead without the dirty, repulsive health care “debate” in the headlines. Thank heaven for small favors. One more victory like this one and he’d be headed back to Chicago and small time community politics.
Another problem for Obama. Since many of the provisions of the legislation do not take effect for years, the true benefits, and faults, will not be known for as long as a decade. Perhaps if Obama were to be defeated next time around (2012), he could come back and run for re-election in 2016 as the man who brought health care costs under control and helped millions of uninsured people. Not likely, on any point, of course. Obama can be blamed by the Republicans for pushing reform, but will he get any credit from voters who won’t see immediate benefits?
There are those who say this is the greatest expansion of “social welfare” programs in American since Medicare was passed way back in 1965. I don’t see it that way, at least not completely. Yes, there is a provision that involves social welfare, helping the uninsured get coverage, but most of this reform package is not about creeping socialism or anything close. It is about trying to rein in big insurance companies, and Medicare/Medicaid costs, and allowing citizens to be less terrorized of the possibility of illness and long term care.
The legislation, as far as I can tell, does not interpose the government between you and your health care, it attempts to make the government a partner in protecting the interests of citizens. With an estimated ten million families forced into bankruptcy each year by health care costs, it should have a strong beneficial effect, in coming years, on economic growth, making the United States a more calm and reasonably prosperous nation.
This must be said: the Republicans, representing the interests of big business and megacorps, almost always oppose anything that would lessen economic pressures on working Americans. Their bosses, the executives in the corporations, want people hungry for work and showing up scared, if possible. The idea that citizens lose health coverage when they lose their jobs is just fine with them, because it means the employer has one more bargaining chip, a big one, when dealing with employees. They are not concerned with the overall economic consequences of pushing people into bankruptcy, because the people they generally represent make far too much money to face such possibilities.
A BATTLE BETWEEN THE WEALTHY AND NON-WEALTHY AMERICANS
This, then, was yet another debate between the “haves” and “have nots”, as most of our knock down, drag out fights are in this country. In truth, however, the battle has shifted: it is now between those who have everything and those who have barely enough. It is no longer rich versus poor, but extremely rich versus just about everyone else, including those riding the bubble at the top of the middle class who could lose what they have with amazing speed and ease.
The Republicans want people to fight and scrape for every bit of stability and prosperity they can get. They want employees, not comfortable people who have little fear of the future. Meanwhile, the Republican game is to keep people focused on taxes as a great evil, so their attention never wanders the fact that wages for most Americans have not kept up with inflation over the last two and a half decades. The ultimate Republican gambit, backed to the hilt by megacorp business, is to deny wage increases and lower benefits. If you aren’t living purely at the mercy of big business, you are not really living the desperate, nervous American lifestyle, are you?
Are we now on the road to socialized medicine? Well, what does that mean? We have developed a system where big business, insurance companies, are dictating what coverage you can get, what treatments you may have and, in effect, how long you may live. Despite all the noise, fears and “great debate”, what we are seeing is some government push back against a system that is not working for perhaps half the entire nation. If this reform package doesn’t work, then the next reform legislation, decades ahead, would likely be a truly radical departure in which we, the voters, would have to decide, once and for all, what it is we want and what we can afford.
REPUBLICANS OVER PLAY THEIR HAND
Pushed forward by the noise from the so called Tea Party, the Republicans are on locked on charge! and don’t want to stop. By coming out the very next day after the bill’s passage saying they will do everything to repeal it, they have overplayed the hand dealt them (and it was a pretty rich hand to start with, too). They come across as mean and churlish, especially compared to Obama’s calm visage during his health care summit not long ago. They make it clear that they won’t give the legislation any chance to succeed, while the national mood shifts in favor of efforts to make it work.
The Republicans are moving from being the party of no to “hell, no” and now the party of nullification. Did Obama not win the last election by a wide margin? Did the Democrats not win both houses of Congress? At their worst, the Dems held their fire, for the most part, when president Bush got major legislation passed, like No Child. Many Democrats even supported it. They certainly weren’t screaming about repeal the moment it became law. The Dems held their tongues because they knew it was good politics and because they knew they had to wait their turn. Now, the Republicans think they can ride health care reform into a majority in the House and more votes in the Senate, but that very much depends on how the public reacts to their tactics.
WHAT IF THIS EFFORT AT CHANGE FAILS?
This Obama plan could be the last stop before going “all in” on a national health care plan like they have in Europe and Canada or giving up entirely. We have created the most expensive health care mess in the world by not coming to terms with what we were doing. It has been all incremental, ad lib, ad hoc. It is not difficult to share the skepticism of voters about whether politicians can ever plan our way out of a mess that is many decades, and trillions of dollars, in the making. But, what else can you do? You have to start somewhere and now, 14 months of nearly bloody battles and repulsive deal making, , that’s where we are: somewhere, at the beginning of a new experiment.
Doug Terry, 3.22.10