[Note: This article is about a national issue. No, I haven’t forgotten I’m running for a local office. But I couldn’t resist weighing in on what’s wrong with this Act of Congress, why both major parties are to blame for it, and why we need a new major political party like the Populist Party to achieve real health insurance reform in this country.–Jerry]
TV, radio, and newspapers are always telling us that the Democrats and Repblicans in Congress are sworn enemies. They are locked in a battle to the death. They despise each other, and they have fundamentally different ideas about where they want to take the country.
It’s a lie.
The truth is, they agree on just about everything, especially when it comes to the big ticket items. They only pretend to disagree. It’s all an act. They’re faking the whole goddamn thing.
They don’t pretend very well—the act is very crude and easy to see through—but they are very consistent and they religiously stick to the script. Only a few members of Congress ever speak the truth about what’s really going on.1 What’s more, major media play along and report all the noisy theatre and windbag rhetoric as if it were an honest debate about real alternatives.
Worst of all, a lot of voters pretend to believe the lies peddled by their own parties. Many “conservatives” pretend to buy the free-market ideology that they get from the Republicans, and “liberals” pretend they’re dumb enough to believe the lies they hear from the Democrats.
But when it comes time for Congress to vote on legislation and for the President to sign it, lo and behold! suddenly the D’s and R’s come together. They always manage to come up with something nice and juicy for the big banks and corporations and the speculators and the war profiteers. Republican or Democrat, they always seem to make sure that the people who are already very rich get even richer. And who gets screwed in the process? The vast majority of Americans—the people who do the work and pay the taxes.
For a list of examples of how this evil practice has worked over the years, see the footnote at the end of this article.2 But for the best example of all, take the Affordable Care Act.
On this issue of healthcare “reform,” what do the Republicans say they want? To de-fund the ACA and stick with the old health insurance system, which has been very profitable for the big insurance companies for decades. What do the Democrats say they want? A new system under which people who have no money get squeezed for an average of $328 a month by a private, for-profit insurance company for a health insurance plan they can’t afford. (Full disclosure: I do not have health insurance coverage of any kind. Neither of my two jobs offers coverage and I don’t have any disposable income, to speak of. I cannot possibly afford a private insurance policy that costs $328 a month or anywhere close to it.)
If these financially strapped people refuse to sign up for one of the plans on offer, they’ll get nailed for a tax penalty by the IRS. If they can’t scrounge the money to pay the penalty by April 15, they will undoubtedly go into debt to the government. More debt! More bills they can’t pay! And all to support a new system that will probably be even more profitable for the big insurance companies than the old system was.
No matter which of the two major parties “wins” this “fight,” the big insurance companies will be the real winners. They will remain very rich or get even richer. Their top directors and shareholders will continue making money hand over fist, as usual, or they’ll also rake in billions of dollars in new profits. And millions of Americans who are already struggling will get even poorer.
That’s a pretty weird outcome for a country that’s supposedly based on democracy and majority rule, isn’t it? But wait. It gets weirder. Because you almost never hear about the best option of all—a Single-Payer national health insurance plan. The U.S. government, under this plan, would be the “single payer” for all health insurance claims, while most physicians and hospitals would remain in the private sector. The plan is often called “Medicare for All” because it would simply extend the very successful Medicare system, which now exists for older people, to everyone.
Under Single-Payer, the high cost of healthcare would disappear because the profiteers—the big insurance companies—would be phased out over a period of 10 to 15 years. And why shouldn’t they be phased out? Their tremendous greed is what caused the healthcare crisis in the first place.
But the Democrats and Republicans in Congress made damn good and sure that Single-Payer did not get any traction, or even a mention. In May 2009, the Senate finance committee held a hearing where 16 groups had been invited to testify about proposals for managing health insurance in the United States. Not one of the 16 would be testifying about Single-Payer.
Luckily, in the gallery were eight people of conscience who made sure that the audience watching the hearings on C-SPAN and the reporters in the hearing room got an earful about Single-Payer. Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action, Katie Robbins of HealthcareNOW!, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and several others literally stood up for a truly rational and fair national health plan. As the hearings began, they stood up, one after another, and forcefully made their case for Single-Payer before being arrested.
This is how desperate things have become. This is what the two major parties have done highest deliberative body in our supposedly free country. The Senate wouldn’t even allow the best healthcare option to get a hearing! Even if a reasonable person can have doubts about Single-Payer, is it therefore right to keep it from even being discussed? Is it fair? Is it honest? Is it democratic?
Naturally, blaming the two major parties for this state of affairs is not the same thing as blaming all their members in Congress. There are a precious few individual exceptions, a handful of honest, courageous people. Dennis Kucinich really was sincere when he said he was dedicated to a public, not-for-profit health insurance system for this country. He was one of the last hold-outs standing up to the stupendous vote-buying power of the big insurance companies. The very fact that he held out—when most of his colleagues were busy selling out—shows that he was sincere. But during the winter of 2010, as the vote on the ACA approached, Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership all piled on Kucinich and bullied him into voting Yes. They thus destroyed one of the few good people they had left.
A few Republicans are probably just as sincere about their own beliefs—“free” markets, “free” trade, limited government, and so on. Most Republicans, however, don’t believe any such thing. Any candid observer can see that, because their actions speak much louder than their words. If they really did believe their own P.R., they’d fight “big government” by opposing the biggest, costliest armed forces in the world. They’d support an international free market in labor, allowing workers to cross international borders as easily as corporations do. And they’d be honest about their assessment of Obamacare and give up the ludicrous charge that it’s “socialism.”
The Affordable Care Act is not, as the Republicans pretend to believe, a government take-over of the health insurance industry. It’s a health insurance industry take-over of the government. It’s not socialism. It’s fascism.
It’s very instructive to look at how the insurance companies reacted when the ACA was passed. I cannot find a transcript or audio of the interview I heard on NPR the morning after Congress passed the Act, but I do recall the NPR reporter suggesting that this legislation represented a “windfall” for the insurance industry. Did the industry spokesperson respond indignantly and complain about how much money the big insurance companies stood to lose from the enactment of the ACA? No, not at all. She calmly went into an explanation of how the ACA was going to work. And she certainly did not deny that the Act was going to lead to windfall profits for insurance companies.
The name Liz Fowler hasn’t come up much in the few days since October 1, but that name draws over 20,000 hits on Google and 14,000 on Bing, mostly in stories from 2010 and 2012. Take, for instance, a story by progressive stalwart Bill Moyers (with copious quotes from the man who brought us the Edward Snowden revelations on the NSA, Glenn Greenwald; see http://billmoyers.com/2012/12/13/washington%E2%80%99s-revolving-door-is-hazardous-to-our-health/). The story notes that Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (yes, the same committee at whose hearings the “Baucus 8” caused such a ruckus and got arrested for it), is a big fan of Fowler’s. “After Obamacare passed,” Moyers writes, “Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler.” Moyers also informs us that Fowler once worked for WellPoint, the largest health insurance company in America. She then had her brief but momentous stint working for the Obama administration. Where does she work now? Johnson & Johnson.
All this chicanery cries out for action. Yes, we have to keep digging on important issues like health insurance in America, in order to separate the truth from the propaganda. But there comes a time when you have to take action.
The time has come, it seems to me, to go beyond merely “speaking truth to power.” The time has come to simply take the power away from the people who have abused it. This can be done legally, constitutionally, and non-violently. People who support the Medicare for All idea must run for public office. They only need to speak truth not to the powerful, but to the voters.
The voters have gotten so used to being lied to that, at first, they will blow the raspberries and wave these new candidates away. But after awhile they’ll begin to see that these people are really telling the truth. Finally, some of those voters will say to themselves: Hey, what have I got to lose? I think I’ll vote for one of those Single-Payer advocates. Soon the idea will catch on. Hey, you can vote for a decent, honorable person instead of a scoundrel. And you have a shot at sweeping the scoundrel out of office in the process!
It can work. It does mean actually competing with the Democrats and Republicans—not cozying up to them. It means conflict. But, once again: it’s legal, it’s constitutional, and it’s non-violent. And it’s probably the only thing that’s going to work. We must give it a serious try as soon as possible.
1 Senator Dick Durbin must have startled quite a few of his colleagues when he said, “Frankly, the banks run this place.”
2 Some of the instances of give-aways to the big corporations and the upper-bracket “earners” include:
—Barack Obama’s refusal to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich sunset late in 2010, when he still had a chance to get it passed while the Democrats ostensibly controlled Congress. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/16/AR2010121606200.html) Naturally Obama could have let taxes go up on the wealthy and negotiated for preventing them from going up on middle-income taxpayers, but he chose not to do that. If the Democrats–including, of course, the President–can’t deliver on one of their progressive promises even when they have the opportunity to do so, then it’s pretty clear there’s no meaningful difference between the two major parties. And, once again, take note who the real winners were: the fat cats. They did just as well with a Democrat in the White House as they did with a Republican.
—The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton, and overturned the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking that had worked so well since it was established by Congress in 1933. The FSMA led to a giddy celebration among the Wall Street bankers–and to the Crash of 2008 a few years later.
—The Obama campaign’s promise to end the Iraq war in 16 months. May 2010 came and went seemingly without a soul even whispering about the Democratic President’s obvious failure to do anything to end the occupation of Iraq. Instead, Obama & Co. kept the war going until the end of 2011, exactly as the Republican George W. Bush had arranged, and no doubt pleasing the contractors and mercenaries who got another year-and-a-half to do business in that ruined country.
—The big bank bail-out of 2008. Congress at first rejected the Bush administration’s proposal to gift-wrap $700 billion and send it to the very Wall Street bankers who had caused the crisis. (It’s interesting to note that more Democrats than Republicans in the House voted with a Republican president on this bill. Party lines? What party lines? See http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/04/business/fi-bailout4) But within minutes of the vote in the House being announced, the market took a nose-dive and ended the day almost 800 points down. Suddenly both parties got the message. Within a few days the Senate passed, in effect, another version of the bill that the House had already rejected (which may not even have been constitutional, since appropriations bills are supposed to start in the House, not in the Senate; see Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution) and the House dutifully passed it in short order. You’ve hardly ever had a better example of the tail wagging the dog–the tail being the Wall Street gang and the dog being their loyal puppies in the U.S. Congress.
# # #