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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bloggers to the Health Care Reform Rescue

Bat signalLast night, I got my marching orders from the Obama White House. The liberal-blogger Bat Signal was sent across the internet in the form of a quote from an Obama conference call with bloggers -- health care reform is in peril and only the internets can save it.

"It is important just to keep the pressure on members of Congress because what happens is there is a default position of inertia here in Washington," Obama told prominent lefty bloggers in an invitation-only conference call. "And pushing against that, making sure that people feel that the desperation that ordinary families are feeling all across the country, every single day, when they are worrying about whether they can pay their premiums or not... People have to feel that in a visceral way. And you guys can help deliver that better than just about anybody."

Oui, mon capitan! Je get bloggin' right pronto!

Of course, there might have been a way to keep reform on track without calling on friendly new media to get the word out. President Obama, trying to avoid the mistakes that killed Clinton's attempt at health care reform, took a more hands-off approach to the issue by leaving the details up to congress. Imperial edicts handed down from the executive branch killed Clinton's plan, the thinking went, so letting congress take the reigns would make it easier to work out some sort of decent compromise.

But this strategy assumed the existence of something that wasn't actually there; Democratic congressional leadership that's worth a damn. This is especially true in the Senate, where Harry Reid seems in constant search of fences to sit on. Senate leadership would have to come from someplace else, because Reid's positively phobic of anything that doesn't have nearly unanimous support. And that leadership came from Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who may have almost literally been the absolute worst person in the world for the job.

It's become clear that Baucus has no interest in reforming health care in any meaningful way. His first step in moving reform forward was to rule out any Canadian-style single-payer plan. At initial hearings and meetings, advocates of a single-payer plan weren't invited to testify, to speak, or -- God forbid -- make their case in any way. At one point, 13 doctors, nurses and activists were arrested while trying to get some sort of attention from Baucus' Senate Finance Committee.

"Is Senator Baucus open to your ideas?," Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked on C-SPAN.

"To a single-payer idea?" Sanders answered. "No. Not in a million years."

It's tempting at this point to just call Max Baucus an idiot. His reasoning -- at least, it's the way he explained his position -- was that there was no hope of ever passing a single-payer plan, so why knock yourself out? We should just cut to the chase and push for the possible. Bothering the Senate with this harebrained scheme was just a waste of time.

That argument would have some merit, if Republicans were interested in anything other than the status quo. But, since the GOP's position is that the current insurance system provides "the best health care in the world," that's really not the case. If the item at the top of the left's wishlist is single-payer, the item at the top of the right's is no reform at all. Clearly, Democrats would wind up with some sort of compromise and Baucus had forced them into a position with no fall back. Had he signaled that single-payer was the preferred system, the public option would've been the fall back. Bonus, single-payer would've been a lot closer to a possibility. Not a realistic possibility, but one hell of a lot more possible than it is when you rule it out entirely.

For his part, Baucus concedes this was a mistake.

New York Times, via Matthew Yglesias:

He conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a "single-payer plan," not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama's proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.

Feel free to shout, "Well duh!" as loud as you like.

"...Framing effects are important in politics," wrote Yglesias. "The public-private competition is supposed to be a compromise between the pristine vision of single-payer and the desire of private insurers not to be put out of business. It creates a situation in which insurers are challenged to prove that single-payer advocates are wrong, rather than simply assert it. But with no single-payer plan in the mix, this gets lost, and the compromise becomes the leftmost anchor of the debate. A single-payer plan couldn't possibly have passed, but I think having hearings on single-payer and having one committee draft a serious single-payer bill that gets a serious CBO score would have been a useful exercise. In particular, it would have focused the mind on the costs involved in rejecting this option."

All but the least realistic Republicans would've been left hugging the public option like a lifesaver. So, is this all the result of lousy leadership and incompetent political strategizing? Yes. But is this all the result of only lousy leadership and incompetent political strategizing?

Clearly not.

Washington Post:

As liberal protesters marched outside, Sen. Max Baucus sat down inside a San Francisco mansion for a dinner of chicken cordon bleu and a discussion of landmark health-care legislation under consideration by his Senate Finance Committee.

At the table on May 26 were about 20 donors willing to fork over $10,000 or more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, including executives of major insurance companies, hospitals and other health-care firms.

"Most people there had an agenda; they wanted the ear of a senator, and they got it," said Aaron Roland, a San Francisco health-care activist who paid half price to attend the gathering. "Money gets you in the door. The only thing the other side can do is march around and protest outside."

As his committee has taken center stage in the battle over health-care reform, Chairman Baucus (D-Mont.) has emerged as a leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the legislation to their advantage. Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus's political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year's reform debate.

"Top health executives and lobbyists have continued to flock to the senator's often extravagant fundraising events in recent months," the report tells us. "During a Senate break in late June, for example, Baucus held his 10th annual fly-fishing and golfing weekend in Big Sky, Mont., for a minimum donation of $2,500. Later this month comes 'Camp Baucus,' a 'trip for the whole family' that adds horseback riding and hiking to the list of activities."

As I said earlier, it's tempting to call Baucus an idiot. He may or may not be, but he isn't just an idiot and incompetence isn't the only explanation for his actions as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Baucus has toned it down a bit -- he's stopped taking money from health care PACS -- but he's still taking cash from lobbyists and executives. Baucus ruled out single-payer from the git-go because that's what he was paid to do. It would've put all but niche-market private insurance out of business.

But, as I said at the beginning, Barack Obama shares some of the blame here. This isn't the same congress that Clinton had to deal with. Passing this off to Pelosi and Reid was practically a guarantee of suck. Better and earlier leadership could've changed things and he wouldn't have had to send out an SOS to the liberal blogosphere.

We could've been pretending to settle for a public option right now, instead of fighting for it.


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Igor said...

Obama qualifications to reform health care:

No birth certificate

Cannot stop smoking

Difficulty telling the truth.

Therefore, I Igor produce Obama Birth Certificate at

Compare Obama Care vs Igor Care at Obama vs Igor Care

Inspector Clouseau said...

We have a tendency in America to argue for or against a concept based on our own personal philosophy or view of the world, what advances our personal interests, or the interests of our party, family, organization, or region. Perhaps viewing the issue from a management or systemic perspective might result in innovative approaches to the issue. The American national mindset, citizen philosophy, lack of citizen motivation to be proactively healthy, and governance model make the socialization of health care in America very problematic, particularly at this point in time. A country needs to know its limitations.

M said...

The The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th in overall performance out 191 countries, while highest in cost.

That is unacceptable by any standard, but especially for a nation of such wealth.

Lawrence O'Donnel was on MSNBC stating that Max Baucus shouldn't be judged by the company, or the millions in contributions, he keeps. He also said Baucus's idea of healthcare reform was way "more left than the President's."


It doesn't help that the media is sponsored by Cialis, Viagra, Lipitor, Flomax, Blue Cross, and on and on.

That's just sickening. Oh. Did I say sick? I meant perfectly healthy(fingers crossed)in a nation that spends 15.2% of GDP on healthcare while pricing me out of coverage.

Republicans aren't the obstacle. It's the Blue Dogs.

Most of us knew a few months ago that taking Single Payer off the table was a huge mistake, but has really proven to weaken the foundation of negotiation and I think you demonstrated that reality very well.

I never believed it was an innocent miscalculation by Max Baucus, but I do believe the President put too much faith and respect in the Congress as a co-equal branch.

As for the Democratic party: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat."

-Will Rogers

markstoneman said...

Yes, as Mark Shields said on the News Hour, Obama "overlearned" the lesson from Clinton on health care. And maybe as a former legislator, both in the national and Illinois senates, he is being just a bit too deferential to his former colleagues. It's okay to be a good listener and bridge builder, but showing some teeth when it matters wouldn't hurt either.

Going all new media instead is a a bit lame. How many are burned out from the campaign? I haven't been able to blog about this stuff. Can't even figure out what Obama wants, let alone sift through all the Congressional versions. No. Need some backbone from the man in the White House.

Wisco said...

Max Baucus also needs to be smacked upside the head...