Friday, February 26, 2010

Quotable: Paul Krugman on the Healthcare Summit

“While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now.

What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform.”

The Healthcare Summit and the Republican Worldview

After yesterday’s White House health summit, President Obama and the Democrats must finish the job on healthcare reform alone, turning to the reconciliation process with eyes wide open and, hopefully, signs of a spine. The President gave bipartisanship his best shot and clarified for the American people some of the lies that have been spread about the healthcare bills. In this sense, the summit was a success. Now it’s time to move forward and pass a healthcare bill.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming -- Dick Cheney’s home state –- represents the elitist mindset among Republicans in Congress that is completely divorced from the reality of people’s lives. To put it another way, one of the Republicans’ favorite preemptive talking points over the years is to accuse Democrats of “class warfare,” when in fact it’s the Republicans who represent American oligarchs in the corporate and moneyed elites. (It is interesting to note that Wyoming is the least populous state in the Union, with a U.S. Census estimated population of 544,270 in 2009, and has the second-lowest population density behind, you guessed it, Alaska.) This telling exchange between Senator Barrasso and President Obama demonstrates how differently Republicans and Democrats view the world:
BARRASSO: “. . .And “What's it cost?” ought to be the first question. And that's why, sometimes, people with catastrophic -- catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, are the best consumers of health care.

[. . .] And, Mr. President, when you say, with catastrophic plans, they don't go for care until later, I say sometimes the people with catastrophic plans are the people that are best consumers of health care, in using -- the way they use their health care dollars.

OBAMA: “I just am curious. Would you be satisfied if every member of Congress just had catastrophic care? Do you think we'd be better health care purchasers?

I mean, do you think -- is that a change that we should make?

BARRASSO: Yes, I think -- I think, actually, we would. We'd really focus on it. You'd have more, as you'd say, skin in the game ... and especially if they had a savings account. They could put their money into that and they'd be spending the money out of that.

OBAMA: Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000 or you had -- that was your income? Because that's the reality for a lot of folks. I mean, it is very important, when you say to listen, to listen to that farmer that Tom mentioned in Iowa, to listen to the folks that we get letters from.

Because the truth of the matter, John, is they're not premiers of any place. They're not sultans from wherever. They don't fly in to Mayo and suddenly, you know, decide they're going to spend a couple million on the absolute best health care. They're folks who are left out. And this notion somehow that for them the system was working and that if they just ate a little better and were better health care consumers they could manage is just not the case.

The vast majority of these 27 million or 30 million people that we're talking about, they work, every day. Some of them work two jobs. But if they're working for a small business they can't get health care. If they are self-employed, they can't get health care.

And you know what? It is a scary proposition for them.

And so we can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn't pretend somehow that they don't need help. I get too many letters saying they need help. And so I want to go to...

BARRASSO: Mr. President, having a high deductible plan and a health savings account is an option for members of Congress and federal employees...

OBAMA: That's right, because members of Congress get paid $176,000 a year.


BARRASSO: ... 16,000 -- 16,000 employees take advantage of that.

OBAMA: Because they -- because members of Congress...


BARRASSO: It's the same plan that the -- that the park rangers get...

OBAMA: John...

BARRASSO: ... in Yellowstone National Park.

OBAMA: John, members of Congress are in the top income brackets of the country, and health savings accounts I think can be a useful tool, but every study has shown that the people who use them are folks who've got a lot of disposable income. And the people that we're talking about don't.”

Perhaps Senator Barrasso should poll his colleagues to determine just how popular his idea for them to switch their coverage to catastrophic is. Better yet, Senator Barrasso should lead by example and swith his own insurance to catastrophic, much like Senator Sherrod Brown has refused to participate in the Senate’s healthcare until all of his constituents have access to the same healthcare he does. But then again, Senator Brown (the good one) is a liberal, and liberals have heart.

Class warfare is a preemptive Republican talking point because they could never justify the massive transfer of wealth from our pockets, the middle class taxpayers, to the pockets of the top two percent of the population, or the sweetheart deals, tax breaks, and reciprocal kickbacks to the corporations that grease their campaign wheels. Those ginormous tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans were the first order of business for Republicans after George W. Bush took office, immediately plunging the nation from surplus to deficit.

If anything, the White House healthcare summit exposed the Republican approach, which does not contemplate universal coverage, and pretty much buried any illusions some in the public may have had of “bipartisanship.” The Republicans do not believe in universal coverage for all Americans. It’s that simple. It’s a repugnant worldview, and one that is out of step with every advanced democracy in the world.

The odious John Boehner, who has yet to be spotted exercising his facial smile muscles (does he have any?), in the end launched into a prepared speech tirade in which he pretended to have “listened” to all that was said, and then repeated the Frank Luntz talking points. President Obama was clearly annoyed and told Mr. Boehner that partisan outbursts were not helpful. Perhaps Mr. Boehner’s idea of nonpartisanship is to refrain from referring to the Democratic Party as an adjective, the “Democrat Party,” as he did on the White House lawn. Here is a MoveOn video reminding Boehner’s constituents whom he really represents:

Now, the very same Republicans who voted for the massive Bush deficits have suddenly found religion, in the most despicable ways. Yesterday, despite repeated pleas from his Democratic colleagues, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky placed a hold on desperately needed unemployment and Cobra benefit extensions for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans, because he wants to make a deficit point and have the benefits paid for by the stimulus funds, which are already allocated. This stunning meanspiritedness, the crass cruelty of making a political point on the backs of unemployed Americans is almost unbelievable; but it is par for the course in the Republican Party. Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt would not recognize today’s Republicans.

This isn’t only a Republican sin, to be sure. Democrats, the so-called DINOs (Democrats in name only) are almost equally at fault for feeding from the corporate trough and benefiting corporations with their votes in detriment to the public interest. They have been mentioned here in the DINO Hall of Shame (Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, and Traitor Joe Lieberman, who is an “independent” wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry); even Evan Bayh, who has more integrity than some of these others, has found it so hard to reconcile his coporate ties with his tilt to the right that he is leaving the Senate, with $13 million in his campaign chest and a fairly easy reelection. Senator Bayh’s complaints about excessive partisanship were not convincing and to the cynics among us, his reasons may well be those of a self-serving, ambitious coporatist. Through this prism the Citizens United SCOTUS ruling did not benefit Bayh. Unless, of course, he took himself out of the running. Look for Senator Bayh to return to electoral politics in 2012 or 2016 as a corporatist in sheep’s clothing.

But with the Republicants it isn’t only a matter of ambition and greed; it is also a matter of faith, ideology, and class privilege. Most of all, it’s heartless. There is a word for this institutional political ideology: Fascism.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Memo to Republicants: Don’t Mess With a New Yorker, ESPECIALLY One Named Weiner

New York Congressman and healthcare reform hero Anthony Weiner smacked down Republicants with a direct assault on their meretricious relations with the health insurance industry. One Republicant fool on the Hill objected despite Weiner’s warning, “You don’t want to go there.” The Republicants did, much to our delight:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What if We Could Drop Healthcare for Dick Cheney and the Palins

After all we’re paying their medical bills with our tax dollars while their party steadfastly refuses to provide healthcare for more than 50 million Americans who are either uninsured or underinsured, or prevent outrageous rate hikes for the rest of us clinging to our healthcare by our fingernails. Americans are now being dropped from health insurance rolls at a record pace so that company CEOs can maintain their lavish lifestyles on the backs of the sickest of the sick, as they’re cast away to die in the gutter of neglect. But not Dick Cheney. The Dark Lord has had five heart attacks, and if not for his government-run healthcare he’d be dead by now. As Ed Schultz said, we wish Mr. Cheney a speedy recovery since he has just become the evil posterchild for universal healthcare in America.

So what do the Palins and Cheneys have in common? Nope, not only that. Surprise, surprise . . . (not really) Tripp Palin Johnston and the “death panels” Queen herself have federally funded healthcare; what the clueless Teabaggers carrying signs that say, Hands off my Medicare!, call “socialized medicine.” On Thursday the President will hold a bipartisan confab in which he presents the White House tweaks to the healthcare bills passed by the two chambers of Congress, and challenge Republicants to submit their plans. They have none. They are constitutionally and ideologically incapable of providing health insurance for all Americans. The party of NO will bellow the Frank Luntz talking points “government takeover” and “setup” to mischaracterize a right-centrist, market and employer based healthcare reform package that pays for itself, reduces the deficit by at least $100 billion, and was first proposed (in concept) by Richard Nixon.

In the end, the Democrats must act. Failure to pass a healthcare bill is not an option after the President went out of his way to include Republicant proposals. Harry Reed warned Republicants to “stop crying” about reconciliation. Republicants, unlike Democrats, are not in Congress to legislate and pass laws. They are there to obstruct and gum up the works of government. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn summed up the Republicant philosophy perfectly: “I love gridlock. I think we’re better off when we’re gridlocked because we’re not passing things.”

Well, Ronald Reagan isn’t president and President Obama isn’t the enemy. If the Republicants refuse to play a constructive role putting country first ahead of party and ideology and refuse to compromise, then they should stand down, step aside, and allow the Democrats to govern. As President Obama said eons ago, it seems: “The time has come to set aside childish things.”

Realistically, the time has come for Democrats and our President to act boldly and decisively; their political health depends on it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Will the Real John Galt Please Stand Up

Perennial libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll with 31% of the vote, far outpacing the runner-up, Mitt Romney, who polled only 22% of the vote. Asked what made the difference in his selection, the self-effacing Dr. Paul (pictured below with GOP Boss Rush Limbaugh) said he made no off-color jokes about Tiger Woods.

Dr. Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy and limited government domestic platform would eliminate several government agencies such as the Education, Energy, Commerce, HHS, and Homeland Security departments, as well as FEMA, ICC, and the IRS. His economic proposals include eliminating the income tax and dissolving the Federal Reserve in favor of a return to commodities-backed currency such as gold and silver. Dr. Paul has attracted a fiercely loyal following among conservatives of a libertarian bent, including so-called objectivists.

In some ways, Dr. Paul is riding a similar kind of wave in the Republican Party that George McGovern rode to primary victory in 1972 on the rebellious anti-war, liberal activist wing of the Democratic Party. Dr. Paul’s insurgent wave of outsiders is powered by purist and idealistic libertarian conservatives who do not really fit in with the GOP, much less with extremist elements of the Tea Party mob.

The Republicants have much to ponder, not least the fractured state of their party, the anarchy among the Teabagger mobs (to date 17 different “Tea Party” groups with competing interests have surfaced), and the continuing (growing?) popularity of Dr. Paul’s message among disaffected libertarian conservatives.

The Democratic Party has its own problems, namely governing the nation in the midst of our worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Even though there’s been more progress made than Democrats are given credit for, this is one of those fights they should sit out, grab a bucket of popcorn and watch, while concentrating on getting their own house in order. Reviving healthcare under the President's more assertive leadership is the place to start.

Suffice it to say that reports of the so-called “Republican Tsunami” in November are premature and vastly exaggerated. Even fans of the Dark Lord should know by now not to believe anything Dick Cheney says.