Republicans in Congress, some of their state governors, the chairman of the Republican National committee and a variety of pundits declared war this week, making it crystal clear that their goal is to bury health care reform.
It is a “cabal,” screeches one. “Socialism,” says another. “Reckless.” “A dangerous experiment.” “Too much, too fast, too soon.” “You should be scared to death.” “It will be [Obama's] Waterloo.” And finally, instructions from Bill Kristol to his conservative compatriots: “Go for the kill.”
Should shouting health care reform into oblivion fail, Alex Castellanos, who is a consultant to the RNC, offered a backup plan: "If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it."
The United States lags behind every other developed nation in the standard measures of health. Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured - more than at any time since before Medicare. No one knows how many are under-insured and we spend twice as much per person on health care as the second most expensive nation.
All this begs the question: why don't conservatives want their fellow Americans to have health care?
Why is the status quo acceptable to them? Why is it all right for anyone to go untreated for lack of coverage? Why is it okay that 62.1 percent of all personal bankruptcies (in 2007) were due primarily to medical bills?
Although it has been my observation over my 68 years that conservatives are just generally meaner than liberals and progressives, the reason is money.
The health care industry as a whole is the largest lobby group in Washington and just yesterday it was reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere that federal lawmakers, including Congressional committee members working on health care reform, have raked in $170 million from that lobby over the past couple of years and are continuing to do so as they write the reform bills. ($1.5 million to Democratic Senator Max Baucus alone.)
Should those lawmakers leave Congress for whatever reason (election defeat, sex scandal, greed), the Washington/corporate revolving door ensures that they are rewarded for their efforts to protect corporate interests with high-paying positions. So they have an enormous incentive to favor big business over the people of the United States whether it is health care, bank regulation or anything else.
When they are not shrieking scare words at us, Republicans and blue dog Democrats have been arguing that health care reform is too expensive. What no one I can find has pointed out yet is that while cost estimates for health care reform are between $1 and $2 trillion over ten years, the federal government would be on the hook for $23 trillion if none of the money already spent on or allocated to all the loans, rescues and bailouts were never recovered.
That makes health care reform sound like a bargain. And it is. The only difference between the two numbers to Republicans is that the larger one benefits mighty corporate interests and the smaller one, a pittance by comparison, benefits only the American people.
Unlike the humongous loans, rescues and bailouts, new taxes are being weighed to pay for health care reform. I have not seen an estimate of how much premiums for a public option would cover so we're swimming in murky waters to discuss this. But one suggestion is that a tax surcharge be levied on the largest earners, a idea we discussed here last week.
Predictably, there are howls from the Republican sector and even House leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, declared that if such a tax is imposed, the floor should be at the $1 million salary level rather than $280,000 in the House proposal.
Unfair, cry the opponents, to tax only the rich. Let's talk about fairness and justice for a moment. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, President Bush's tax cuts, which began in 2001, are still in force and benefit only the rich, had a direct cost to the government of $860 billion through 2005. Bush's promise when he lobbied for these reductions was that they would spur economic growth. We know now how well that worked out – they paid for the yachts and fourth and fifth homes that the rich are now trying to unload without much success.
During World War II and under President Eisenhower's tenure, the wealthiest Americans were taxed at 90 percent (well, much less after deductions), so there is precedent for taxing the rich. The poor have no money, middle-class is tapped out and it is time that the wealthy paid their fair share. There would be some small amount of justice in that for the non-wealthy among us and wouldn't hurt the wealthy.
If our country (and do remember that it is taxpayer money) can bail out banks who caused their own financial collapse while destroying the life savings of millions of Americans, costing them their homes along with five million jobs, we can afford health care for every American. Social justice, of which there has been none for many years, demands it.
As the war of words over health care reform escalates and the president's approval numbers dip slightly, Republicans are trying to kill it off and one way that can be done, as Mr. Castellanos notes, is through delay. The longer it takes, the less reform there will be. That's what scares me the most which Bob Franken, writing at PoliticsDaily, explained well:
"By the time our leaders cobble something together, the process of compromise will have created reform that really isn't. The pressure to do anything else will have run out of steam.
"Our leaders will leave us with something that is inadequate, at best, and possibly worse than before.
"Then, in their zeal to declare success and placate voters, they will trumpet a glossy success and gloss over the mind-numbing details that will really add up to failure."
I do believe we will get some kind of health care reform – perhaps only a weak one, but something. The one item the Republicans hate most in the debate and which we cannot do without, however, is the public option. They fear it will lead, in time, to a single-payer system and they are correct. And that is why we must win on health care reform.
At 8PM eastern time tonight, President Obama is holding a press conference largely devoted to health care reform. It will be carried on all three broadcast networks and the usual cable news channels.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior: Fun at the Carrie Underwood Show.