Take the Deal

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is the face of progressive resistance to a scaled-down health reform bill. He is a co-sponsor of HR 676, which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans but has yet to get a committee hearing. He says he will not vote for the Senate health-care bill because it mandates that people buy private insurance but does not contain a public option and he feels it does not protect consumers.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Countdown on March 8, Kucinich said the bill represents a “giveaway to the insurance industry” of $70 billion a year. He argued that it does not create a foundation for future reforms. “You’re building on a foundation of privatization of our health care system,” he said, adding, “Insurance companies make money by not providing health care.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sponsored a similar Medicare for All bill in the Senate — also to no avail — told Ed Schultz on his radio show March 9 that his advice to progressives is “take the deal.” He noted that the deal could be a lot better, but there is still a lot of good in the bill: It not only would help 30 million Americans who are now uninsured, but it also would provide access to community health centers for 20 million Americans who have trouble getting primary health care. And he noted that the Senate bill gives states the opportunity to set up their own single-payer plans (after 2017, if the health secretary signs off).

But if Democrats cannot pass their signature issue in this Congress, Sanders said, “It would probably mean a political disaster” in the fall for Democrats. Then health reform would be off the table for the foreseeable future.

Wendell Potter, the former insurance company executive who quit to advocate for health-care reform, told Bill Moyers on PBS March 5 that he supports the flawed reform bill because, among other things, it prohibits insurance companies denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions; it ends insurance companies from dropping insurance once a client gets sick or injured; it increases federal regulation of insurance companies, who are now able to operate under looser state rules; and it limits out-of-pocket expenses for patients.

Forcing insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions would be a “big thing,” Potter said. “If they’re forced to take all comers, even people who really need insurance, which is what we’re really hoping to accomplish with this legislation, that means that they’ll have to spend money covering the care that they need. And that’s another reason why you have this mandate of trying to make sure that everyone does get in the system, because you have to have everyone in the system before that works.”

Like many single-payer advocates, Potter said he was distraught when he saw the watered-down reforms the Senate was voting on. But he realized, “often we’ve come short because we’ve tried to get the perfect, and we’ve never been able to get anything as a consequence.”

We would prefer expansion of Medicare to cover everybody, but Congress is nowhere near passing such a reform — and it will be farther from such a reform next year if the Democrats fail now.

An estimated 46.3 million Americans were without health insurance in 2008, according to the Census Bureau, and millions more probably have lost insurance since then. Democrats who style themselves “pro-life” but anti-health reform risk causing many more people to die from lack of health care if the moment for reform passes. Meanwhile, federal funds cannot now be used for abortion and they will not under the reform.

There is still a chance that senators can muster 51 votes to install a public option in the budget reconciliation fix to the Senate bill. That would leave the matter up to the House, which already has approved a public option. That would be great (although it is not outside the realm of possibility that the House would then balk at a public option). But if the House and/or the Senate flakes on the public option, the bill is still worth passing. Then, if the insurance companies prove an unreliable partner in the health care reform process in the next few years (as we fully expect), Congress can adopt a public option or expand Medicare in the future.

If any other motivation is needed, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show March 9 that if the health reforms are passed and implemented, he will move to Costa Rica. (Several reform advocates noted that Costa Rica has universal health care. Markos Moulitsas suggested at DailyKos.com that Limbaugh instead try Somalia, which “doesn’t suffer from the evils of socialized medicine.”)

America Still Needs Jobs

Wall Street browbeat Congress into enacting a bipartisan bailout of banks and investment firms in September 2008 to avert a threatened worldwide depression. Now the too-big-to-fail banks are reporting profits again but 8.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the Great Recession started in December 2007. Small businesses report problems getting loans from these same banks that the taxpayers bailed out.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year injected $787 billion in new spending or tax relief into the economy over two years. It has created or saved more than a million jobs and helped to pull the economy out of its nosedive. But nearly 15 million Americans are still out of work — including 6.1 million jobless for 27 weeks or more — and another 11 million are underemployed with no quick recovery in sight. Adding to the problem, 2.2 million manufacturing jobs have moved overseas and they probably aren’t coming back.

The $15 billion jobs bill passed by the Senate and the House gives employers tax breaks to help pay for new hires but it is likely to create only a couple hundred thousand jobs, far short of the 11 million jobs needed to bring the employment rate back to the 5% level where it was before the recession started. The Senate also is moving on a $150 billion package of tax extensions and aid for the unemployed. That bill includes one-year extensions of unemployment insurance and health benefits, as well as money to help states pay for Medicaid as well as pension funds that were hit hard by the recession.

The Economic Policy Institute has called for a five-point American Jobs Plan to create at least 4.6 million jobs in the first year. The plan also costs for a stronger safety net, including unemployment compensation, COBRA health coverage and nutrition assistance. It also calls for fiscal relief for state and local governments, renewed investments in transportation and schools, direct creation of public service jobs; and a new job creation tax credit. The first-year cost would be roughly $400 billion.

The entire cost can be recouped within 10 years by enacting a financial transactions tax of 0.5% on stock transfers. The rate could vary for other transactions to prevent in vestors from engaging in short-term speculations where assets are held for only hours or days. Several countries have financial transaction taxes, including Britain, which imposes a 0.5% tax on each trade on the London stock exchange.

The AFL-CIO notes that America has at least $2.2 trillion in work to be done fixing our broken-down school buildings, roads, highways and bridges and developing green technology. Millions could be put to work on those projects.

But the effort to provide job relief runs up against a Republican Party that is adamantly opposed to any action that will revive the economy before the mid-term election. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) threatened to hold extension of unemployment benefits hostage unless he was given an opportunity to cut taxes for the wealthiest estates. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) held up the unemployment extension bill for several days because of a dispute over how it should be funded, relenting only when Republican colleagues noted that the bill also funded highway projects in their states.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) got the prize for dumb remarks with his questioning the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits. “Is the government now creating hobos?” he asked.

Our government doesn’t need to create hobos. We need to guarantee people productive employment at a living wage.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2010


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