Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hamsher: The Sober Reality of Health Care Reform, Reid Promises Public Option Vote


The Sober Reality of Health Care Reform

FDL Statement on the Passage of the Health Care Bill

by Jane Hamsher, Founder
March 22, 2010

The country turned an important corner last night when Congress affirmed the
moral imperative of providing quality health care to more Americans and
passed the President's sweeping health insurance reform bill. It is to
President Obama's credit that he was willing to commit his office to such a
challenge when others before him had failed.

But this is not health care reform, and the task of providing health care
that Americans can afford is still before us. Too much was sacrificed to
corporate interests in the sausage-making process. Rather than address the
fundamental flaws in our health care system, we applied a giant band-aid.
This health care bill does not come close to doing all that needs to be done
to meet the needs of our citizens and our businesses as we retool our
economy for the 21st century.

There are many good and praise-worthy things in this health care bill: help
for those with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed coverage for children,
money for community health centers, and expansion of Medicaid and SCHIP. But
there is also cause for serious concern. Never before has the government
mandated that its citizens pay directly to private corporations almost as
much as they do in federal taxes, especially when those corporations have
been granted unregulated monopolies.

This bill fundamentally shifts the relationships of governance in order to
achieve its objectives. It was hard to reconcile the President's campaign
against the evils of the insurance industry with a solution of "corporate
tithing" that drives millions of people onto their rolls. We have empowered
another quasi-governmental, "too big to fail" industry with alarming

Over the course of the past year, it was exciting to take part in covering
the health care debate as online journalists, watching "new media" mature as
we all explored new ways to deliver information beat-by-beat to our
audiences. At the same time, we witnessed a political process that could not
keep pace with the depth and intensity of this coverage. Myths were exploded
almost as quickly as they were generated. In the end, it was not a lack of
60 votes or 50 votes that caused the President to break faith with his
supporters and sacrifice the public option, it was a lack of political will.

We saw in the last days what President Obama was capable of when he truly
put the force of his political skill behind an effort. But as time wore on,
the mountain of data unearthed could lead to only one conclusion: this bill,
with its eerie similarities to a plan written by insurance industry
lobbyists in 2008, was what the president wanted.

Rather than use his talents to rein in corporate interests, as he promised
on the campaign trail, the President used his office to shield them from
accountability. This was our chance to weaken them, and the Americans that
Obama inspired with his message of change would have fought like hell by his
side to do just that. Sadly, that opportunity was squandered. President
Obama made himself the defender of the corporate interest problem that we
still need to overcome. Perhaps that is the best that can be achieved
within our current system. If so, that is a sobering reality.

This bill is a first step, not the last. The Democrats must fix this bill
while they still have the chance. Before they leave Americans at the mercy
of the system they have created, it is imperative that they address the
issues of cost control, the dangerously weak enforcement mechanisms, and the
anti-trust exemption for insurance companies.

Even a single, solitary Senator can begin that process immediately by
introducing a public option amendment when the Senate takes up the
reconciliation bill later this week. Now that the health care bill has
passed, there is no need to worry that this move could endanger the overall
package. The Senate should also consider the bill ending the anti-trust
exemption for insurance companies already passed by the House. And when
Congress takes up immigration reform, we hope that they provide for the
health care needs of immigrants, a need too quickly cast aside in the face
of right wing demagoguery.

We also hope that the Democratic party recalls that preserving abortion
rights is a plank in the party platform. Unfortunately, with this
legislation, women's reproductive rights were sacrificed for corporate
profits. There's no other way to say it. And the party alone is not to
blame. It could not have happened without the cooperation of pro-choice
groups, who failed to mobilize and did little but issue press releases and
fundraise in the wake of the biggest assault on women's reproductive rights
in 35 years. Their complete capitulation is symptomatic of the crisis that
the passage of this bill has triggered on the left. Liberal interest groups
across the board sacrificed the interests of their members, and, in the end,
acted as little more than enforcers for PhRMA and the insurance companies,
or sat mute in exchange for personal sinecures and carve-outs.

But it is a national shame that a Democratic President who pledged the
repeal of the Hyde Amendment would proudly issue an executive order
affirming it. How far we've come since 2007, when Barack Obama swore that
his first act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.

And finally, most of all, we hope that members of both parties find the
courage to stand up to the corporate lobbyists who dominated this
process–because if left unchecked, their pernicious influence will continue
to infect every aspect of our government to the detriment of its citizens.
We who are voters must clearly communicate in November that we will accept
nothing less because the fight cannot end until we as a nation decide to
take on the corporate interests that are corrupting our political
institutions and strangling their ability to provide affordable healthcare
to everyone.

Jane Hamsher is the founder of firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared
on The Daily Beat, AlterNet, The Nation and The American Prospect.



Reid Promises Separate Public Option Vote In Next Few Months

Huffington Post: 03-19-10

Hoping to assuage progressive Democrats who remain disappointed with the
content of the health care reform bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(D-Nev.) committed on Friday to holding a separate vote on a public option
in the coming months.

In a letter to two of his more progressive colleagues in the Senate -- Jeff
Merkley of Oregon and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the Nevada Democrat
implicitly apologized for his inability to get a government-run insurance
plan into the final piece of health care legislation and promised to keep
working to get the policy into law.

As you know, I am a strong supporter of a public option, and I included
the HELP Committee's public option in the bill I brought to the senate floor
last year. I was disappointed when it became clear that we did not have the
votes to keep it.

Nevertheless, like you, I remain committed to pursuing the public option.
While I believe that the legislation we are considering does much to provide
affordable coverage to millions of Americans and curb insurance company
abuses, I also believe that the public option would provide additional
competition to make insurance even more affordable. As we have discussed, I
will work to ensure that we are able to vote on the public option in the
coming months.

The letter is a clear sign that Reid's commitment to the public option
throughout the health care debate has been as much personal as political.
The Nevada Democrat, on several occasions, tried to corral the 60 votes
needed to pass variations of the public plan -- but to no avail. His
willingness to give the policy a separate hearing appears to be a thank you
of sorts to the caucus's more progressive members for not jumping ship.

UPDATE: It also achieved a practical objective for the Majority Leader.
Later on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sander's announced that he would drop his
efforts to include a public option as a amendment to the health care
reconciliation package -- forgoing a potentially tricky vote for the party.

"Given the very delicate situation at this time and the challenge facing
Speaker Pelosi as she rounds up votes, Bernie and other senators have
concluded that offering a public option amendment now could undermine the
entire process," said Sanders spokesman Will Wiquist.

The search now is for a vehicle outside health care reform to get a public
plan into law. The same institutional hurdles that killed the provision in
the previous go-rounds -- mainly that there aren't 60 supportive senators to
break a filibuster -- remain. But aides on the Hill are already looking to
future reconciliation vehicles to which they can attach the public plan,
which would, in turn, allow for it to pass via an up-or-down vote.

"I very much appreciate Majority Leader Reid's continuing support for a
public option and I am grateful for his commitment to bring legislation
before the full Senate within the next several months," Sen. Sanders said in
response to Reid's letter. "It's imperative that we have a vote on this
issue and I'm glad that is going to happen... It is my judgment that a
majority of members in the House and Senate would support a public option
when it comes up for a vote."

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