Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"I Need To Be In Haiti"

Caption: A special free clinic held in an LA basketball arena by Remote Area Medical.

Image credit: Screenshots of this Real Time segment by Cujo359

On the health care reform front, this has been an interesting thirty-six hours. Early yesterday, people were still reacting to the news over the weekend that certain unnamed White House officials had declared the public option dead:

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," [Sen. Kent] Conrad said on "Fox News Sunday."

His comment signaled a shift in the health care debate, with Obama and senior advisers softening their support for a public option by saying final form of the legislation is less important than the principle of affordable coverage available to all.

At a town hall meeting Saturday in Colorado, Obama said the public option is just one of many issues critical to successfully overhauling the ailing health care system.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius echoed Gibbs, telling CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that a final health care bill will include competitive choices for consumers in one form or another.

"There will be a competitor to private insurers," she said. "You don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices and we need some competition."

Democratic Senator: Public Health Insurance Option Dead

Supposedly, all this was being done to placate Republican lawmakers in the hopes of having some sort of bipartisan bill. This never made any sense to me, because it isn't the Republicans who can stop this bill any longer. They don't have the votes in either chamber. Only the Democrats do.

Progressive legislators, Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-09) among them, told the White House in a letter to Sebelius on Monday that without a public option, they would not vote for a health care bill:

Last month, 57 liberal House Democrats wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others, letting her know that they couldn't support a compromise on healthcare reform that had been worked out with the more conservative Blue Dogs. Now, with the public option under increasing threat as the administration appears to be offering it up as a sacrificial lamb, 60 House Dems have banded together to write a similar letter.

House Dems warn Sebelius: No Reform Without Public Option

[links from original]

In an interview on CNBC, Weiner added that there could be as many as 100 votes in the House against the bill if it contained no public option.

Late yesterday, the White House signaled a possible change in direction. The implication was that the search for a "bipartisan" solution on health care reform had been abandoned:

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

Democrats seem set to go it alone on health bill

Which sounded very encouraging, until they basically walked that statement back at this morning's press conference:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continued to push back against this morning's stories that the administration has given up on getting bipartisanship, even while saying President Obama agrees with the statement that set off those stories.

"Many (Republicans) want to see health care reform," Gibbs said. He also said the three Republicans working on negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee -- Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), Olympia Snowe (ME) and Mike Enzi (WY) -- "are working in good faith," Gibbs said. "I have no reason to believe they're not."

Gibbs: We're Still Pushing For Bipartisanship, But Obama Agrees With Rahm

Except for all the Republicans, including Grassley, who have said categorically that they won't even support the so-called "co-ops" of Sen. Conrad's, and basically won't countenance anything that has even a ghost of a chance of actually providing health care for people who don't get it now, that's probably true.

Jane Hamsher finally put all this in perspective today at Firedoglake, in an article that draws from a number of recent observations about who's getting support from the pharmaceuticals, medical care, and insurance industries and who could be:

On May 11, "stakeholders" including the AMA, PhRMA, the hospitals and the device manufacturers delivered proposals to the White House promising to "voluntarily" reduce cost increases over the next 10 years. In an effort to keep them "at the table," Baucus's Chief of Staff Jon Selib and Finance Committee staffer Russell Sullivan told stakeholders at a May 20 meeting that their participation in the process of crafting a health care bill was contingent on them "holding their fire":

Sources familiar with the lobbyist meeting described it as collegial, but they said Baucus’ aides made clear that any public opposition to the proposed financing of a reform package would be at their clients’ peril. The staffers’ message to K Street was clear: Tell your clients to let the process work and don’t torpedo it with advertisements, press releases and Web sites.

The goal of keeping stakeholders at the table was threefold:

1. Keep them from advertising against the White House plan
2. Keep them from torpedoing vulnerable Democrats in 2010 so there isn't a repeat of 1994
3. Keep their money out of GOP coffers

You can see the fingerprints in the deals that they made: the $150 million PhRMA was spending on ads for health care reform, the $2.5 million they spent helping vulnerable freshmen (and Blue Dog Mike Ross, who is anything but vulnerable), and the total fury that Boehner has unleashed on PhRMA and other stakeholders for making deals with the White House.

The Baucus Caucus: PhRMA, Insurance, Hospitals and Rahm

I've had suspicions about this personally, I just couldn't put the pieces together as Jane has. The money that these interests can put into campaigns is enormous, and saying no to it would be a courageous move. The Obama Administration has a clear track record of not saying no to such people.

The bottom line is, as the more cynical among us had imagined all along, the bottom line.

Which brings me back to this video of Bill Maher's Real Time show that I saw the other day. It was about two groups of people, one who were protesting health care reform, shouting incoherent nonsense at a town hall organized by a local U.S. representative, and a group of people who were attending a free clinic held by an organization called Remote Area Medical (RAM). RAM is meant to take medical care where people normally can't get proper medical treatment. Yes, an organization that normally treats people in Third World nations was in downtown Los Angeles, treating people our own medical services, from what we're told by the various half-wits in our government and the news is the best in the world, won't help. The segment shows part of an interview with the group's founder, Stan Brock, who said this:

I need to be in Haiti. I need to be in Guatemala. I need to be in Zimbabwe... In large part, these are people who have jobs, and have insurance.

As if to say "Why doesn't this rich country get its shit together and take care of its citizens' basic needs?"

Even if I had no feeling for the people in that clinic, and had complete assurance that neither I nor anyone I cared about would ever be one of them, I would still be profoundly embarrassed by this. We leave so many of our population untreated for even the most basic health care needs that it's humiliating. We need assistance like a Third World government that's been run by corrupt governments for the last several decades.

Well, as Jane Hamsher has shown, there might be a connection ...

No comments: