Tonight, President Obama will give his big speech to save healthcare reform. All the networks will broadcast a presidential address to a joint session of congress -- with the exception of FOX. They'll serve the American public by airing So You Think You Can Dance?. That should be gripping and historic. Watercooler conversation ought to be interesting tomorrow, with most people talking about the Obama address, while others will be talking about how they can't believe that one guy dropped that chick during their Funkytown routine. Hope she has healthcare. That was quite a tumble.
For his part, the president will be abondoning the negotiations on which he had pinned his hopes. Sen. Max Baucus's Finance Committee has failed to create a bipartisan bill after their weeks-long snipe hunt. Republicans pretended to be interested in bipartisanship, to slow the process down, but the truth is that it seemed impossible that Democrats would agree to a deal lousy enough to satisfy the GOP. Not that Baucus hasn't tried. After everything finally went all to hell, Max went ahead and wrote his own legislative turd. I guess the idea here is that it looks bipartisan, even if it isn't.
And it looks bipartisan because it's completely awful. Of all the proposals, his is the worst. There is no public option; instead, there are non-profit co-ops. This is an idiotic concession, since Republicans don't like the co-ops either. And co-ops are insurance reform in the same way that credit unions are banking reform -- i.e., they're not. Baucus's plan has almost no safety net, but would fine people for not being insured. Associated Press reports that, although the bill includes tax credits to help pay for insurance, people who "don't sign up would face hefty fines, starting at $750 a year for individuals and $1,500 for families. The maximum penalty on individuals would be $950."
That's not reform, that's making it illegal not to hand your money over to insurers. Once they drive the co-ops out of business, this would be a disaster. After weeks and weeks of dicking around and taking people like GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley seriously, Baucus has produced a dog of a bill. It's not fit to line a birdcage. Luckily, pretty much everyone in Washington has had it with Max's fool's errand and this bill has almost no hope of reaching the president's desk. Senator Max is still chasing that bipartisan rainbow; AP reports, "Baucus is hoping his plan can win bipartisan support." It can't. The plan is so bad that he checked it with insurance lobbyists before showing it to the White House. Max Baucus does not have your best interests in mind.
And, if Obama is still dreaming bipartisan dreams, it's time he woke up. The White House is reportedly considering a "trigger," which would launch a public option automatically if insurance companies don't shape up and fly right within a certain amount of time. There are a lot of problem with this -- not the least of which is that Republicans don't like that either.
"I think a lot of Republicans would be very leery of a trigger, because a bad idea today would be a bad idea tomorrow," House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence told reporters when asked about it.
"I’d have to look at that very, very carefully, because I think that’s just a way of getting a public option, just maybe a bit more slowly," said Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. Let's face it, Republicans are against reform period. The status quo is serving corporations -- the Republican party's real constituency -- very well. If the insurers see no reason to change, then neither does the GOP. They claim to have alternative reforms, but they're just stale old GOP talking points that have never gone anywhere in the past; tort reform, health savings accounts, etc. On the issue of healthcare, there's nothing they're for so much as what we have. As a result, they oppose anything that has any hope of meaningful change.
Of course, Republicans aren't the only obstacle to reform. The president faces opposition in his own party. So-called "moderate" Blue Dog Democrats are basically Republicans on this issue, although to a minuscule degree more open to negotiation. The trigger option is designed more to get them on board than to mollify Republicans. That doesn't mean it's a good idea.
[Former Clinton Labor Sec. Robert Reich:]
The problem [with a trigger] is twofold. First, it's impossible to design airtight goals for coverage and cost reductions that won't be picked over by five thousand lobbyists and as many lawyers and litigators even if, at the end of the grace period, it's apparent to everyone else that the goals aren't met. Washington is a vast cesspool of well-paid specialists who know how to stop anything resembling a "trigger." Believe me, they will.
Second, any controversial proposal with some powerful support behind it that gets delayed -- for five years or three years or whenever -- is politically dead. Supporters lose interest. Public attention wanders. The media are on to other issues. Right now the public option is very much alive because so many Democrats care deeply about it, with good reason. But put it off for years, and assign it to the lawyers and lobbyists I just mentioned, and you can kiss it goodbye for ever.
Reich also states what should be the obvious; "If the idea is to have a public option waiting in the wings in case private insurers blow it, why wait for it at all? If it gets lower costs and wider coverage, it should be included right from the start."
In other words, the trigger assumes that a public option would work. But, instead of actually instituting the option, it threatens to. Then it hopes that insurers -- the same ones who put together the town hall mobs -- will declare the fight over and pretend the public option actually exists. I can put the odds of that happening into two words; no chance. All this does is put reform on the backburner, while allowing K Street lobbyists to continue to make it the purpose of their lives. It's surrender, while declaring victory.
We won't know that the public option is dead until the president's address tonight. There is a certain amount of crystal ball reading in what everyone expects him to say. There's still a possibility that he'll come out strong for the public option -- just not much of one.
If we wind up with the trigger, then we'll have to work to keep healthcare reform front and center. For years. No recission must go unreported, no rate hike must go unremarked, no abuse must go ignored. If we get stuck with the trigger, we have to go on the offensive and do everything in our power to pull it.
We've waited too long for a rational healthcare system. It's time to put the old system in front of the death panel of public opinion. If Washington won't kill it, then we have to. Because this monstrosity must die.
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