Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Well-Polished Turd...

... that is "health-care reform" might well become the biggest boondoggle of the century thus far, even surpassing the wretched excesses of the $700 billion bailout or the Raskolnikovian administration of two concurrent wars by the Pentagon.

What is becoming more and more obvious in these Dog Days is that what supposedly began as genuine straight-up health-care reform effort has become a dog's breakfast of a muddle of a legislative traffic jam.

Moreover, as the special interest groups become even more splintered and as increasing numbers of people have their own particular bit of the monstrosity to defend, what would ordinarily and rightly be called typical Washington kabuki has become multiple layers of kabuki and meta-kabuki.

The public seems to be divided into those who staunchly believe in and support the concept of health-care reform, and the fringe wackos who've been seduced by the power of teabags and corporate lobbying money and their own crazed, near-religious fact-free sense of rectitude. The truth is, though, that neither of those groups have a clue about the legislation as it is now, and what it will be in its final form. I certainly don't, either, but, there are enough signs and signals out there to indicate that when Congress is done, no one except the for-profit health care industry is going to be happy with the results.

If one were actually serious about health-care reform, and if one had control of the House, the Senate and the White House, the simple and obvious plan of attack would be to introduce a bill for a single-payer system, modeled after, say, France's, or Germany's, or Sweden's. Simple, straightforward and would go right for the jugular of the for-profit system that is the cause of virtually all of the country's problems with health care delivery. And, the bill should have come from the White House, to indicate that this is what the President would like to see. That should have been the opening gambit, and nearly two-thirds of the country's voters would have been in favor.

Instead, the President said, in effect, "okay, Congress, go to it, and what you come up with will be okay by me." Then, immediately, the poobahs of Congress took their strongest card, single-payer, completely off the table. The Villagers of Washington couldn't have been more pleased, because that was "bipartisan," i.e., what Republicans wanted. The plan, instead, would have a "public option," which would be the principal means by which for-profit insurers would be kept honest through competition. "Boooo," said the Villagers, "that's unfair." And, the for-profit people were ahead of the curve, as usual, sending in an army of lobbyists (to the tune of $1.4 million per day) to wheedle, cajole and campaign-contribute their way into the hearts of sundry Congress critters.

In almost no time at all, the House version of the bill had grown to roughly a thousand pages (and in my calculation, that would be about 100 pages of guts, and 900 pages of qualifications, exceptions, loopholes, giveaways and bearded one-eyed men with a limp).

Which is sort of where the layers of kabuki and meta-kabuki begin to be stacked one on top of the other and are sort of dribbling and melting through each other.

The White House tries mightily to evade demands for the names of the for-profit industry representatives who've been invited to the White House to make their case. The Obama White House does this as if there had never been any controversy over Cheney's Energy Task Force and its little secret visits from Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Ambitions.

Even though the Senate Finance Committee ought to be restricted to determining funding for the bill, it's not. Sen. Max Baucus (that's Mr. For-Profit, to you, bub) has his staff leak news that the bill reported out of his committee won't have a "public option" in it, and will approve co-ops, already determined by most observers to be ineffective and incapable of matching the power of regional for-profit insurers.

Then there's leaked word that the for-profit industry likes the reform bill. Heads pop up out of the sand all over the country and say, "wha?"

Then, there are leaks to the effect that the "public option" will not cover very many people or be as vigorous and comprehensive as originally planned.

After the bad news that there won't be an ass-kicking public option, we're told that, yes, the only way the system will work is if everyone is mandated to purchase health insurance. Of course, we are also told that the government will provide subsidies to help with the purchase. Critics see this as a way of leaving the very poorest out of the system, just as they are now. If they don't have enough money for food, they won't have enough money to pay their share of insurance. If the government pays for it all, it bankrupts the plan without additional taxes.

A tiny tax on the top 1% of income earners is proposed to make up the difference. The right-wing wackos, corporations and Republicans (let's see the Venn diagram on that one--we need a laugh by now) begin the mantra that Obama's a commie. Corporations would be the big winners in this, since it would be yet another successful transfer of tax revenues into their hands, but, their executives would likely whine at paying an additional 1% surtax for the privilege. They're wearing the inscrutable, expressionless kabuki mask on this one.

Then, there's the news that there won't be a vote on the bill before the August recess. In-the-know people and those wise to the ways of Washington realize that this will mean a full month for the naysayers to pummel reform advocates at townhall meetings in their districts.

Then, even though the for-profit industry supposedly likes the bill, they begin pouring large amounts of money into right-wing PR firms to provide organizing information to teabaggers, oddballs, kooks, crazies and little old ladies who think Medicare is not a government program, the better able they will be to completely disrupt townhall meetings in the districts of reform advocates.

Then there's a last-minute, just before the recess, hail-Mary pass by Pelosi: she will allow a vote on single-payer after the recess, but there's virtually no more information on what she means than that. No one knows if it's an attempt to euthanize single-payer or resuscitate it.

Then, various administration types start repeatedly referring to the bill as "health insurance reform," not "health care reform." Listening carefully, skeptics hear the wrenching, crunching noise of goalposts being moved.

Then, when we find out who's been chatting up Obama in the White House, we find that deals were made, and "pledges" by big Pharma were given, and that Billy Tauzin strikes again, which probably explains why the White House didn't want to hand out any list of names.

The townhalls begin, and right on cue, the right-wing nutballs descend on them, shouting down the representatives with calls of "read the bill" and "tell the truth." There is the occasional representative hanged in effigy. Canny observers note that the same slogans are being yelled in disparate parts of the country, and that many of the complainants aren't from the representative's district, don't know what they are talking about, and don't really care. They just believe as they're told. By right-wing talk show hosts. Dog, meet bell.

In the meantime, all the people in favor of health-care reform don't have an iota of a smidgen of a glimmer if there's anything left in the bill to support. Recent polls suggest waning support for health care reform and for Obama. Critics complain about the polls. The legislation might not even take effect until 2013. No one knows, because after almost eight months, there's nothing even remotely close to a finished bill that will pass both houses.

And yet, the polishing continues. The turd gets smaller and smaller, glossier and glossier, and yet, its turdly essence is preserved, intact.

There might be a metaphor in there.


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