Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care and Other Sorrows

President Obama and various Democratic Senators trumpeted their “victory” this weekend, when they managed to bribe Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to pledge his vote for the Health Care Bill in exchange for concessions on abortion (how abortion became part of the health care debate is another matter). Here is how an AP report characterized the concessions: Not only would health plans not have to offer coverage for abortions, but

“In plans that do cover abortion, beneficiaries would have to pay for it separately, and those funds would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money.
Moreover, individual states would be able to prohibit abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange, but after passing specific legislation to that effect.”
Thus, one reactionary senator from one corny state has dictated the health benefits offered to women in the entire nation.

The rest of the benefits once considered firmly in the bill have been torpedoed by other reactionary senators like Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. So gutted has the final bill become that Howard Dean, once a presidential candidate and until the party election this year, chairman of the party, wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that appeared today, condemning the compromise in no uncertain terms. His words pretty much sum up the defeat of Senate liberals on healthcare:

“If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers’ monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health care reform.
Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.
Real health care reform is supposed to eliminate discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. But the legislation allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to three times as much as younger Americans, pricing them out of coverage. The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company…
If you want to read more of what Dean said, and it is powerful, check out his op-ed.

But the important thing here, as in numerous other initiatives of the Obama Administration and the craven Democrats who promised reform in this and other areas, is the continuing abandonment of long-held principles upon which they were elected. A recent article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone Magazine (“Obama’s Big Sellout” Dec. 9, 2009) cites these concessions chapter and verse. It is not a pretty picture. Basically, according to Taibbi, the Obama Adminstration took action as soon as Nov. 5 to abandon the promises (and people—Austin Goolsbee, Karen Kornbluh) that got him elected, and steered deliberately towards the center and the moneyed interests who reign there. It was clear in the appointments Obama made to his economic team—and which we have commented on before. People like Tim Geithner as Secretary of Treasury, Lawrence Summers as Head of the Council of Economic Advisers, Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Michael Froman as head of the National Economic Council, and countless others, all came out of a very specific area of Wall Street, many of them aides or protégés of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. According to Taibbi, Rubin, who came originally from Goldman Sachs, has screwed up every job he’s ever had. Nonetheless, he has been consistently demoted upward, most recently to the Chairmanship of Citigroup, which the Federal Government has bailed out with billions (upwards of $300 billion) of taxpayer dollars. His legacy in the current administration has been extensive and toxic:

The significance of all of these appointments isn't that the Wall Street types are now in a position to provide direct favors to their former employers. It's that, with one or two exceptions, they collectively offer a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has come to stand for in the 21st century. Virtually all of the Rubinites brought in to manage the economy under Obama share the same fundamental political philosophy carefully articulated for years by the Hamilton Project: Expand the safety net to protect the poor, but let Wall Street do whatever it wants. “Bob Rubin, these guys, they're classic limousine liberals,” says David Sirota, a former Democratic strategist. “These are basically people who have made shitloads of money in the speculative economy, but they want to call themselves good Democrats because they're willing to give a little more to the poor. That's the model for this Democratic Party: Let the rich do their thing, but give a fraction more to everyone else.
It is sickening to realize that this pretty much sums up the moves made by the Obama administration in virtually every arena of government: the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, the policy on torture and Guantanamo, health care reform, and global warming. It is always a compromise with the most reactionary forces, and justified by the catch-phrase that has now become their mantra: Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. But what good is a good that makes matters worse, as Dean says about the current health care compromise? What good is a Nobel Peace Prize for a president who has just ordered 30,000 more troops to a war that never should have been started in the first place?

All one can conclude is that one’s optimism that Obama was a “necessity” ran its course on Inauguration Day when people wept to see a black man as President. Since then, it’s been downhill all the way. The real power in this nation has remained unchanged, and firmly in the hands of Wall Street bankers, corporate CEOs, health-care moguls, and the same wealthy elites who have run things since the beginning. One might have thought that the near-catastrophe that brought the financial system to its knees would change this, but, if anything, it has made conditions for most of us worse. Now the health care “reform” bill threatens to add to the stench.

In this dark season, one cannot help but veer towards that prophetic question of William Butler Yeats:

“what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Lawrence DiStasi


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