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Posts Tagged ‘public option

What Brown Means

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Apropos Mr. Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, I have already made clear my opinion that for all the endless debate and speculation surrounding this fiasco, very little will substantively change. It seems clear that the Senate will pass some version of the watered-down House bill (perhaps adding a little water themselves), and we’ll be stuck with a mandate nobody wants and uneven subsidies with which to pay for it. The “Democrats” will either tap Ms. Snowe, who has already indicated her favorable stance toward the House bill, or Mr. Brown himself will be persuaded to “flip-flop”, something which, given his voting record, is well inside the realm of possibility.

But I think the idea that Mr. Brown will do as he has hinted and bury this bill warrants consideration. The irony of Mr. Kennedy’s seat being used to block something for which Mr. Kennedy spent his life (albiet, ineffectively) attempting to achieve have seen wide discussion. But personality politics aside, this episode would lay bare the supreme paralysis of our legislative branch, its utter inability to accomplish anything substantial without the president’s intervention. This bill occupied a full year of time during an economic tsunami. It’s been stripped of much of what made it initially attractive. For it to fail would indicate beyond a measure of doubt that our elected officials are incapable of acting in the interests of their constituents.

(As a side note I want to make clear that the gutted, sham-“reform” now being debated in the Senate is precisely what Mr. Obama wanted. There is substantial evidence to suggest Mr. Obama never intended on a public option being in the final bill, and instead considered it an asset to be traded away like so many horses.)

None of this, of course, is new. Mr. Bush, you will recall, saw very little resistance from Congress in funding and prosecuting the Iraq War, massively cutting taxes to the rich, or giving himself wide authority to kidnap, wiretap, torture, etc. The “Democrats” simply went along with it, despite such actions being diametrically opposed to whatever is they believe in. Similarly, a “Democratic” president, Mr. Obama, has seen very little Republican resistance in prosecuting his wars, extending unlimited subsides to the financial industry, or enforcing a health-insurance mandate, something which he specifically campaigned against. “Republican obstructionism” has made itself felt only on issues placing popular interest above business interests, and “Democrats” quickly cave to such tactics. Of course, no anti-corporate “Democratic obstructionism”  exists to counterbalance its “Republican” mirror.

So then what we have in the end is a de-facto single party system, wherein the “two” parties maintain their separateness in name only and conduct theatrical negotiations regarding issues on which there exists considerable agreement.

The “debate” over health-care reform fits this scheme perfectly. As a candidate  Mr. Obama campaigned explicitly for a non-profit publicly owned health care provider (the so-called “public option”) and against an individual mandate, which would legally require all Americans to patronize our bloodthirsty private insurers. His opponent, Ms. Clinton, took the reverse position and so did Mr. McCain. Our vast pharmaceutical and insurance industry, unsurprisingly, supported the Clinton-McCain plan. Soon after election Mr. Obama reversed his position and embraced Clinton and McCain’s vision of “reform”, though he did so by degrees. Up until August he was still nominally for a public option. But we have known since then that Mr. Obama did not really favor a public option, from the moment he uttered those infamous words (“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it…”). The health insurance plan now on the table strongly resembles what Ms. Clinton or Mr. McCain would have preferred, and, it would seem, what Mr. Obama wanted all along.

So many bloggers and “analysts” insist on viewing this race through the traditional “Republican-Democrat” dichotomous lens, endlessly arguing over what this means for “Democrats” in 2010, why Ms. Coakley lost (it is always due to ‘party’ considerations, never due to her piss-poor candidacy), and how this will help “Republicans” further obstruct Mr. Obama’s agenda (whatever that may be). Some of the cleverer commentators have demanded a return to majority rule in the Senate and an end to the “automatic filibuster“, something with which I wholeheartedly agree. But such gossip-driven “coverage” misses, I think, the defining feature of this imbroglio, which is the vast similarity between our two “ruling parties”.

Taking such into account, “Republican obstructionism” and “Democratic waffling” quickly transform into “corporate rule”.



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Don’t care. The health care bill is already stripped of anything one could call “reform”, and I’m unsure how this Brown fellow can mess it up anymore. What, is he going to add a public option? Ha. Remove the individual mandate? Obviousy not. And they can’t cut many more of the subsidies, since the whole thing falls apart if the majority of uninsured can’t afford the mandate. Forcing people to buy something they can’t afford sounds like a good recipe for civil disobedience, something which our ruling party hardly desires. I think it’s pretty clear the health-care bill will eventually pass in something resembling its current form.

I hadn’t heard of Martha Coakley nor the victorious Mr. Brown before last week, and for all the spotlight this Massachusetts race has drawn, in two months they’ll likely both sink back into obscurity.

Written by pavanvan

January 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Death of an Option

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I’ve tried to stay away from the unholy imbroglio of our “health care debate”, more, perhaps, from a love of sanity than a lack of interest. The endless grubbing for votes, the pointless Republican obstructionism and the overt deviation from Senate rules (bills are supposed to need only 51 votes, remember?) have left me thoroughly disgusted with the affair. The one ray of hope was the surprising resurrection of the public option debate, but that, too, has been taken from us.

Ezra Klein and The Washington Post have effectively declared the “strong” public option (a non-profit scheme wherein the uninsured can buy-in to Medicare at subsidized rates) dead and cremated.

An interesting question now arises as to whether health-care reform would still be worth it without a strong public option. I admit I have not combed through the 4,105 page bill currently being discussed, but my feeling is that “health care reform” without a public option becomes “health insurance reform”. While both schemes promise to extend insurance to a proportion of America’s currently uninsured (say, 25 million out of 45 million now without insurance), “health insurance reform” would leave much of the industry’s profits intact. “Health care reform” would instead bite into the for-profit paradigm that now prevails.

Aside from the Public Option, the other significant part of the proposed reforms is the “mandate”. Way back, during the 2008 Democratic Primaries, Hillary and Barack had a minor feud regarding this bit of policy, which produced an amusing bit of histrionics from our Secretary of State (“Shame on you, Barack Obama!”). Obama then attacked Hillary for her health care plan, objecting to her “mandate”, which would force Americans to buy insurance (in much the same manner as car insurance is mandated). Shortly after winning the Presidency, Obama changed course (“flip-flopped”, as the expression goes) and came out in support of the mandate, which is now featured prominently in our present health care bill.

It stands to reason that a country-wide mandate without an adjoining non-profit health exchange would be a massive boon to the existing health-insurance providers. With a stroke of the legislative pen, these companies will immediately receive tens of millions of new customers, who, after all, have no choice but to buy health insurance from them or pay a hefty fine. Meanwhile, with no non-profit alternative, our existing “health providers” can make out like bandits on fees and overcharges.

Written by pavanvan

December 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm


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Ezra Klein gives a cheery update on the healthcare imbroglio to report that Senator Reid is “leaning toward” discussing a public option.

As he writes:

“We’re leaning towards talking about a public option,” said Harry Reid at a press conference today. Greg Sargent, along with a lot of other reporters, thought this was a weird comment. I think it reveals more than people realize, and it should make public option supporters very happy.

Klein argues that if the option is discussed during the negotiations phase there is a high likelihood of some sort of “compromise” slipped into the bill – whereas, if the option goes directly to vote it would not get the 60 votes necessary to override a filibuster, and thus die.

In his words:

That’s a big win for public option advocates. If they get something in during negotiations, opponents will need to muster 60 votes to remove it on the floor. If the public option has the 52 supporters that Sen. Tom Harkin estimates, then that’s impossible.

Unfortunately, the entry ends with that revelation – Klein does not question why a compromise must be struck if the public plan already has 52 supporters. The answer points to a persistent feature of our modern politics: the filibuster. Unheard-of in the 19th century, and still quite rare by 1940, the use (and threat of) “talking a bill to death” has overshadowed nearly all of our legislation since. No longer is it sufficient, as prescribed by the Constitution, to have a simple majority in Congress. Now  one requires a “filibuster-proof” majority (in our scheme, 60%)  to pass any significant legislation.

In practice this development has acted largely to the detriment of the public interest – most famously in the case of Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Bill of 1957. With regards to a healthcare public option, the threats of a filibuster will doubtlessly cause the Senate to act directly against public opinion. The “filibuster-proof” requirement also places undue influence on specific members of the Senate. All eyes are now upon Olympia Snowe of Maine, who holds the swing vote and can literally dictate her own terms on the final bill.

The tragedy in this is that our elected officials have not even the pretense anymore of acting in the interests of the public they serve. It is clear, according to nearly every polling agency, that a majority of Americans support a non-profit publicly owned health provider. It is also clear, from every analyst not directly in the pay of the insurance or pharmaceutical lobbies, that a public health plan would significantly drive down costs. Yet these facts hold no weight in our Senate.

Which I would put forth as rather dismal news for supporters of the public plan.

Written by pavanvan

October 20, 2009 at 11:15 pm

The Public Option: DOA

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The Times reports Big Pharma to spend up to $150 million advertising Max Baucus’ healthcare plan (the one without a public health insurance option).

So much for that, I guess. With the furor already raised over “big government”, a few velvety advertisements from the friendly (and seductive) makers of Lexapril should squelch public option discussion once and for all.

No wonder the Times also ran a front page analysis yesterday, effectively declaring the public option dead.

Corporate interests, for the win!

Written by pavanvan

September 14, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Virulent Protests against “Big Government”

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Rally in Washington. Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Rally in Washington. Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

This is truly surreal, and lends a new tone of absurdism to what is turning out to be a thoroughly scurrilous health care “debate”.

Not that protests against “out-of-control spending” (as the AP worded it) are absurd in themselves. Indeed, it seems clear that the Obama deficit presents a mortal danger to our long-term economic health. But with the 2001 tax cuts to the rich still in effect, the trillions printed for the benefit of our financial industry, and the tear-inducing costs of our overseas adventures, the idea that uninsured citizens with preventative care could ignite such fury seems exceedingly bizarre. Particularly as the currently debated scheme would leave insurance industry profits largely intact.

The fury, at least, seems real enough. The newspapers report  thousands of citizens descending upon Washington from all across our considerable landmass, toting signs with instructive messages such as “ObamaCare Makes Me Sick”.  Nearly every article begins with the profile of a protester who took a train, two buses, and hitchhiked to attend the event. It’s hard to believe such furor has been raised only by the prospect of expanded healthcare – something else is clearly at play.

The Washington Post gives us a hint:

Jeff Mapps, 29, a stagehand and labor union member from South Philadelphia, left home about 6 a.m. to come to the protest. He said he hadn’t been involved in previous Tea Party demonstrations, but he watches Fox News host Glenn Beck “all the time” and he wanted to be a part of something he thinks will be historic. Beck has been drumming up support for the march.

Glenn Beck, as you may know, is a verminous talking head at Fox News, formerly at CNN. A “conservative” thoroughly opposed to ‘big government’, he nonetheless cheered loudly for every bit of Bush-era deficit spending, from the Iraq War to the TARP bailout.

And again:

Like countless others at the rally, Joan Wright, 78 of Ocean Pines, Md., sounded angry. “I’m not taking this crap anymore,” said Wright, who came by bus to Washington with 150 like-minded residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “I don’t like the health-care [plan]. I don’t like the czars. And I don’t like the elitists telling us what we should do or eat.”

So it would appear the issue is not truly with the idea of “big government”, but merely this government.

As far as one can tell, much of this event was organized by a collection of “conservative” political action groups, including FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Campaign. Their agenda seems entirely corporatist in nature. Anyone truly worried about the deficit would protest against our overseas engagements or the terrifying actions of our Federal Reserve. Instead, they have chosen this particular manifestation of “big government” to oppose – the very same one that promises to drive down insurance industry costs.

Our sponsored media has also answered the siren call, whipping up the public ire against this and only this program of Mr. Obama’s. In doing so, they reveal a real fear among the pharmaceutical industry regarding the so-called “public option”. For an easy reminder of the role pharmaceuticals play in cable news, observe how many ads for their products you encounter in a half-hour of Fox or CNN programming. I once counted twelve.

In the end, I don’t really think they have much to worry about. If a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option is available when all this is over, you may color me pink. But the fact that a bit of petty demagoguery can mobilize thousands of citizens against their material benefit – well, that leaves me rather blue indeed.

Like countless others at the rally, Joan Wright, 78 of Ocean Pines, Md., sounded angry. “I’m not taking this crap anymore,” said Wright, who came by bus to Washington with 150 like-minded residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “I don’t like the health-care [plan]. I don’t like the czars. And I don’t like the elitists telling us what we should do or eat.”

Written by pavanvan

September 12, 2009 at 8:09 pm