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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 9/3/09

Who's Blocking Health Care Reform Now? Blue Dogs? Senate Dems? House Progressives? Or the White House Itself?

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In less than a year, Democrats have transformed themselves from the party of change to the party of excuses. Republican birthers and teabaggers, blue dog Democrats, rogue donkey and elephant senators, and even progressives favoring single payer or the shadowy "public option" have all been blamed by the White House for holding up health care --- or is it health insurance --- reform. But with the end of the August recess, the ring is closing and the clock is ticking...

By the summer of 2008, Democrats had stopped pretending there was much difference between them and Republicans on foreign policy. Their candidates were younger and smarter, but they weren't going to stop the wars or bring more than a few of the troops home anytime soon or lift the Cuban blockade. Forget about that stuff, leading Democrats said. Where the Party of Change would deliver for sure, they told voters, would be health care. Voters listened, and delivered Democrats the White House, a crushing majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Senate.

The president's timetable called for passage of a health care bill in the summer of 2009, but it didn't happen. The White House blames almost everybody --- blue dog Democrats, a handful of right wing Democratic senators, Republican birthers and teabaggers, even the large number of Democrats who want single payer health care or its shadowy stand-in, the public option. But the games are wearing thin. Democrats are running out of time, room and excuses.

Anyone who can add knows Republicans are not blocking universal health care. The performances of Republican teabaggers at a few town halls notwithstanding, there are just not enough Republicans in the House and Senate to block anything. The president and his party can roll over Republican opposition any time they want to.

Blue dog Democrats aren't to blame for blocking the White House health care bills either. The political careers of many House blue dogs are the creation of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dispensed them bags of corporate cash to win primary elections against left leaning Democrats. The interests that owned Rahm, and still do, own his successor at DCCC, so the blue dogs are White House puppies it can rein it any time it chooses.

Senator Baucus and a handful of right wing senators are not to blame either. Some are Republicans, who simply don't matter. They don't have the votes. And the Senate Democrats with their hands on the bill are all choices of the White House, and all dependent on the good will of that same White House for a percentage of their corporate campaign contributions. Senate Democrats are keenly aware that a sitting president of their own party has literally hundreds of ways to exert pressure on any single legislator. None of them is crossing the White House either.

The only obstacle to passage of the president's health care --- or health insurance legislation is the White House itself. Barack Obama knows better than any of us the difference between what he promised and what is about to be delivered. The undeniable difference is dawning on much of the public too, and is reflected in sagging poll numbers for Democrats and the president. The dozens of Democrats who have declared they will vote against any health care --- or health insurance --- bill that does not contain what they call a "public option," are only trying to insulate themselves and protect President Obama from the worst consequences of his own treachery in selling out the vision of universal health care to big pharma and the insurance companies. They aren't blocking the president's bill. They're trying to ensure that there is something in the bill they can defend to the outraged public who elected them to pass health care reform.

From the beginning the president hamstrung his own grassroots supporters and made much of his vaunted email and phone list of 13 million volunteers useless by coming down hard against Medicare For All and any forms of single payer, which were among the prime motivations for their energy and devotion. So the people whose boundless enthusiasm swept Obama into the White House were not available to pack many of the town meetings. Some Democrats, like Dick Durbin of Illinois canceled their public meetings for fear of left leaning hostile, and likely pro-single payer crowds which even corporate media would find it hard to ignore.

Running away from single payer and all its eminently rational supporting arguments deprived corporate funded Democrats of most of the best answers to Republican charges that real reform was "socialized medicine" that would result in "rationed care." It robbed President Obama and Democrats of the most potent leadoff arguments against the present untenable system --- that health insurance companies who produce no care at all account for one third of every health care dollar in the US, and that two thirds of all family bankruptcies are from unpayable medical bills. Democrats now can't make that argument because the Obama bill is a bailout for those same vampire insurance companies.

It made them unable to present a health care reform package as a job creating economic stimulus more real than anything the president has yet proposed. Adopting a single payer system, as the National Nurses Organization pointed out at the beginning of the year, would create 3.3 million new jobs. Subtracting out the 550,000 in the insurance industry who would have to find other livelihoods, a single payer health care plan would create a net surplus of 2.6 million new jobs, as many as the economy lost in all of 2007, and provide tens of billions in taxes that support the budgets of local governments. So with millions unemployed and underemployed Democrats cannot argue that their health care bill will put Americans back to work, or help fund local and state governments.

Progressives in the House, many of whom supported single payer when Bush was president, have switched to a shadowy something they call the public option. But although many of them know by now that the White House has gutted the public option from an original 120 million strong, large enough to actually force health care prices downward, to a mere 10 million, not nearly enough to compete with private insurance, congressional democrats continue to cling to this scrap of a fig leaf. It's not single payer, it's not even universal health care of any kind, they admit, but it's a big first step. They are contradicted by Obama's own HHS Secretary who declares that absolutely nothing in the public option or in the president's health insurance reform package will ever, under any circumstances lead to single payer.

Even Maryland's Rep. Donna Edwards could be seen on C-SPAN last weekend before a substantially pro-single payer crowd in her own district, claiming that although she preferred single payer, the public option would be the best they could get through the Congress this year. It was, "a uniquely American solution," she said, echoing the right wing argument that single payer Medicare For All which she professed to support a few breaths before, was somehow un-American.

If progressives like Donna Edwards can be blamed for blocking health care reform, it's only because they are choosing to follow the White House lead and settle for "health insurance reform" instead. The White House itself, and our First Black President are the biggest political obstacles to achieving health care for every American, along with the corporate media which controls the public debate.

The fact that Lyndon Johnson fired up Medicare, enrolling and providing care to millions of seniors in only eleven months back in the pre-computer era of 1965-66 would be a potent pro-reform argument against those who argue about "socialized medicine" or a go-slow approach to health care reform. The barrier to delivering health care to additional millions has never been technical. It's always been political. But this too is an argument the White House and Congressional Democrats cannot throw against their opponents. The Obama plan's health insurance exchanges won't begin gearing up to cover the uninsured till 2013, three and a half years away. Oh, well.

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Bruce Dixon is the managing editor for Black Agenda Report.
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