Health Care Reform and Our New President

If someone manages to shut up self-indulgent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman long enough and the current health care reform bill approved by the House makes it through the Senate more or less intact, no doubt President Obama will be spinning it as a major victor

If someone manages to shut up self-indulgent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman long enough and the current health care reform bill approved by the House makes it through the Senate more or less intact, no doubt President Obama will be spinning it as a major victory.

It might be a victory for Obama’s administration, but I’m not sure it will be a victory for the American people.

The plan passed by the House Nov. 7 mandates that most employers provide health care coverage for their workers or face a tax penalty — up to 8 percent of their payroll, according to news reports. Also, it would provide subsidies for middle-income people to buy insurance from private companies and create a national insurance exchange where people could shop for the best policy.

If approved, the plan would provide coverage to about 36 million people who are currently uninsured. Laudable, but let’s recall that there are an estimated 46 million people uninsured in the United States, including 9 million children. After all this time and effort, and we can’t even get it right?

The plan is estimated to cost $1.1 trillion over a decade, paid mostly by new taxes on the rich (individuals earning more than $500,000 annually, couples earning at least $1 million annually) and cuts in Medicare.

The drawback here — besides not solving the problem of the uninsured — is that almost all Americans will be forced to have insurance from a “qualified” private company or face penalties.

Without a viable public option, a government-backed insurance plan that would provide competition to private companies and help lower costs, the plan will end up as a boon to those private companies and provide them with a new pool of customers without lowering costs.

Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action wrote that the plan is flawed “because it keeps the insurance industry in the game, it will cost a trillion dollars over 10 years, it won’t cover tens of millions of Americans, it won’t control costs and it’s a bailout for the insurance industry.

“Only a single-payer — everybody in, nobody out — national health insurance bill will hit the grand slam: cover everyone, save money, control costs and fix a broken health care system,” Mokhiber added.

So, once again, a bill designed to curb the excesses of an industry will actually help boost its profits.

We all should have known not to expect a meaningful effort at reform when — despite Obama’s promises to the contrary — much of the nitty-gritty committee work to hash out the bill wasn’t open to the public. That’s when insurance industry lobbyists did their voodoo, pressuring lawmakers to delete provisions that might cut too deeply into their exorbitant profits, while seeking perks to shore up their place in the market.

There are six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of Congress, more than three times the number of people registered to lobby for the defense industry, according to Bloomberg News. Those groups spent $263.4 million during the first six months of the year.

If Obama had taken a more direct role in shaping the health care reform plan early on, listing broad guidelines for Congress that weren’t negotiable, while better outlining the eventual pitfalls of the current system, we might have had true reform.

Instead, Obama let a multitude of plans emerge from congressional committees, confusing the public even further. Worse, in his futile quest for “bipartisanship,” the president backed off from his initial deadline of wrapping up debate before Congress’ summer break, letting obstructionist Republicans dominate the media with their phony Town Hall meetings.

Obama needs to sharpen up and get tougher going forward, or he will lose the core of his constituency. Although he had crossover appeal to some Republicans and independents, he will never make it to a second term without Democratic support.

It’s time to lessen the influence of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and fire both Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and economic adviser Lawrence Summers. All are practitioners of old-style politics and helped create the mess we’re in. The president should borrow a page from Lyndon Johnson’s playbook and get more engaged with Democrats in Congress, alternately wooing them and bullying them as circumstances warrant.

The novelty of Obama’s place in history as the first African- American president has long since worn off, and his knack for looking handsome and giving great speeches only can carry him so far.

Mr. President, show some self-control and stay off The Today Show, 60 Minutes, The David Letterman Show and other programs that focus on your personality and penchant for M&Ms. We don’t need to see your grinning face all the time, and absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. Get to work, and take another look at those detainee policies.

In a recent episode of Mad Men, a TV drama set in the 1960s, one character reacted to President Kennedy’s assassination by stating, “It felt for a second like everything was about to change.”

Obama shouldn’t squander his historic opportunity. He promised change, but he needs to remember it only occurs with brave, bold action.

* * * * *

Voters in the state of Maine last week approved the passage of “Question 1,” which overturned the law allowing marriage of same-sex couples there. (Hang on, there’s a surprising local connection coming up.)

Just as the Mormon Church played a pivotal role in funding the notorious Proposition 8 campaign last year in California, organized religion gave significant amounts of cash to the Maine effort. In fact, it might have been some of your money.

As local activist Will Kohler discovered, contributions from the Catholic Church to the anti-gay campaign totaled more than $553,000. Records show that cash flowed in from archdioceses across the nation, including $1,000 from Cincinnati.

The money, in turn, was sent to the National Organization for Marriage, which used a campaign of fear, lies and distortions to get equal marriage repealed in Maine.

This was money that parishioners donated to the Catholic Church that could’ve been used to fill food pantries for the hungry or to buy blankets for the homeless and medicine for the poor and sick.

No matter where we live or whether we are gay or straight, the church needs to be exposed and held accountable for supporting intolerance and shouldn’t be using parishioners’ offerings to fund them.

On the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Web site, this is how they ask for donations:

Every day, thousands of people in our region are in need of miracles, large and small. And thanks to the Catholic ministries of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati — ministries made possible by you — these miracles happen. There are so many reasons to be grateful.

I have to wonder if all parishioners who gave money to their church would approve of it being spent this way. Hell, I have to wonder if Jesus would approve.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINE: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]

Scroll to read more Cincinnati News articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.