25 September 2009

E-mailing Finance Committee Members in Favor of Robust Public Option

I have e-mailed every single one of the members of the Senate Finance Committee <link here> with this message. (Click on name, and find contact form on Senator's website, they all have them). I left out the sentence about "ALL democrats" in my e-mails to the Republican members, and added thanks to Sens. Schumer, Kerry, and Rockefeller for their already stated strong support for the Public Insurance Option.

I am writing to strongly urge passage of a robust public insurance option amendment to the Finance Committee’s health care reform bill. Consistent polling shows that over 60% of Americans favor a public insurance option. It is time for the Senate of the United States to vote for what the people want for once.

It is particularly important for ALL Democrats on the Committee to support this crucial policy.

Thank you.

David Studhalter
North Hollywood, California

Update: CBS/NYT poll today shows even Republicans favor public option by a plurality 47-42. Among the General public, its 65-26 and among Democrats 81-12. Independents come in at 61-30. With numbers like these there's just no excuse for not passing a public option.

18 September 2009

How the President Could Re-energize his Agenda

I have some suggestions for how the President could begin to change the way politics is played. I think it’s pretty obvious that the closely divided government, especially in the Senate, (as a result of Senate rules giving great power to a unified minority, which is what we have), have made it very difficult for the President to get action on much of his agenda. I think it’s clear that some pretty radical new strategies are needed to move forward on real health care reform, financial re-regulation, workers’ rights, revenue reform, environmental action, rethinking of national security issues, and other elements of the president’s agenda going forward.

The president needs to abandon traditional constraints and enter into a regular dialog directly with the American people. I suggest reaching out to the major networks and offering them this deal. The president gets ten minutes on Sunday morning, or, better, the news hour time slot on a weekday, to speak to the American people, then he will take questions from the news suits for ten minutes. EVERY WEEK. They can give a Republican spokesman the same time on the same or another day for rebuttal… it won’t matter. No Republican is the draw or has the gravitas that the president is and has.

The president will then use his time, like a fireside chat, to address a particular issue. He should follow these precepts:

1. Speak directly to the people, and ask them for help, using phraseology from the Bible and JudaeoChristian tradition, in much the way that John F. Kennedy sometimes did. Study George Lakoff and reframe everything in positive ways that influence people to want to help the president get things done. (References to “our better angels,” and “the fundamental decency and integrity of the American people,” that kind of thing). 

2. Talk about making changes in economy, environment, health, etc. for the benefit of your children and grandchildren.

3. Talk openly and honestly about the need to break the logjam of the way Congress works. Ask people to communicate directly to their congressman and senators regularly, using a system outlined below. Ask them to ask their congressperson directly, politely, repeatedly, to support the president’s policies, not just generally but the particular action he’s talking about that week.

4. Teach, but don't talk down. The president is masterful at this when he’s got the right framing going.

Next, the administration needs to be much more proactive in providing outlines, with specifics, of exactly what legislation is needed, to the key members of Congress, both House and Senate. Call them in for conferences all the time. Engage them, and never let up. The White House needs to ramp up its activity to a legendary level. We need to be speaking of the incredible energy and activity of the Obama White House for a generation to come. 

As part of the help the president asks of the people, a means of putting pressure on Congress needs to be created. The whitehouse.gov website could be a springboard. Ask people to go to a website where they will be able to link directly, by entering their zip code, to a form that goes directly to each Congressperson and Senator, giving the citizens an opportunity to say in their own words that they want the reform or action the president is talking about to happen, and they want their Congressperson to support it. This could go a long way to blunting the power of lobbies and money, by giving the people direct feedback, and a direct connection to their government at the highest level. And people will do it, because the president, speaking directly to them, has ASKED them to do it.

I have been one of the President’s progressive critics heretofore, but I have decided since the president’s masterful health care speech that we need to rally around our President, and help him, because it’s now or never, and he’s the only chance we have.

Thank you.

14 September 2009

Dianne Feinstein Must Go

It is a source of continual frustration and embarrassment to California Democrats that one of our two Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein, votes consistently like a Republican on key issues. I've said it before and I will say it again; I will never, ever vote for this woman again for anything.

11 September 2009

Pawlenty Now Card Carrying Lunatic Fringer

Here we go. Governor Pawlenty has just declared himself to be a card-carrying member of the lunatic fringe.

If it were not so clearly true, what Mencken said, that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American populace, you'd have to expect that the GOP was well on its way to marginalizing itself completely, but the ability of sharp practicers to use Goebbellian propaganda techniques to get millions of people to strongly believe all kinds of nonsense that's totally inimical to their own interests is demonstrably real.

Reaction to Obama Speech

Having had a day to digest what he said, I am cautiously optimistic that President Obama's speech, which was very good in many ways, will have the effect of uniting the party and lending some backbone to wavering Democrats. I think some kind of health care bill, hopefully one worth having, will pass the Congress this year, and that the president and Democratic members of Congress will receive more credit than opprobrium for it.

I appreciated that the president laid out a pretty clear and convincing case for why a public insurance option is necessary (although most people seem to have missed the point that it is necessary in large part because it is the
only realistic plan on the table which will have the ability to cut costs). I was not too thrilled that he didn't insist on it more forcefully, but I am not giving up, despite Lawrence O'Donnell's refrain that legislation always only moves in one direction (in this case, as in almost all cases, rightward). I think it may be possible to convince enough Democrats that only a public insurance option will really work to control costs.

The conventional wisdom is that the insurance lobbies will do anything to kill it, and that may be true, because it really does attack them at their point of vulnerability. Both sides agree, with opposite policy conclusions: public option, if structured rationally, will outcompete private insurance, for the simple reason that private insurance spends more than 30% on overhead and administration, not to mention profit, which is
zero added value. The public insurance system would be able to function on 3 or 4% overhead, like Medicare, and would deliver a much better value for premium spent. Eventually, if allowed to function rationally, we would have a system like that in many other countries, where most people receive insurance through a public system, and very wealthy people choose to have private coverage for convenience.

One way around the obvious impasse this might create would be to have private companies function as TPAs (third-party administrators)
of the public insurance system. Lower overhead, lower profit, but at least they would survive. Medicare actually functions in this way to a great extent.

But on the area of paying for all of this, I think the administration is kicking the can. It's just not realistic to expect to pay for covering 1/5 of the population now not covered through cost savings. Not gonna happen. And the tax on "cadillac" policies won't be enough.

What is needed, maybe not this year, but soon, is a paradigm shift. We need to recognize that
health care is valuable and we need it, and we have to pay for it. There will have to be modest tax increases on the middle class, and large tax increases on the very rich, to pay for it (and to pay for some other much needed programs that have been sorely neglected under what amounts to 30 years of rightist government).

Overall, I think Obama did a pretty good save of what threatened to be a total debacle, so I'm reserving my criticisms and offering the administration my support to get this done, while reserving strong advocacy of a robust public insurance option as an essential ingredient of a workable plan. If we fail to get that in the final bill, we will be back trying to figure out how the total mess that the legislation will create can be fixed pretty soon after it takes effect (which isn't even for years, anyway).

It has been clear to me for years that the insurance paradigm is really unworkable when it comes to paying for health care. Insurance works for unlikely casualties, like shipwrecks, burglaries, fires, car accidents, etc. It spreads risk and provides security for an affordable cost. It tends to break down (and require subsidies) covering broad risks, like earthquakes and floods. And it fails completely covering costs that everyone is guaranteed to experience, like health care costs. Insurance does function (barely) to cover the risk of catastrophic costs, but the system is so bogged down paying (badly and with totally unsustainable inefficiencies) for ordinary care that it is fundamentally dysfunctional. What is needed is a reimbursement system that not only spreads the risk of catastrophe, but recognizes the role of public subsidy to transfer the cost of health care for the poorest third or so of the population to everyone else: this is simply the reality of the situation. And, what most people just won't acknowledge, is that the system needs to rationalize rationing. We have rationing now, it's just that it's grossly inequitable. The ability to make medical care choices based on what's best overall for patients and families, without profit considerations, needs to be returned to doctors, with realistic controls to protect against abuse, through stringent regulation and a system that covers everyone for rationalized health care costs and protects consumer interests.

10 September 2009

Throw Snowe under the bus

So Olympia Snowe says a public option bill will never pass the Senate, after President Obama's speech last night? Fine, time to throw her and any fantasy of bipartisanship entirely under the bus. The hell with 60 votes, the hell with trying to get her ... or any Republican.... to vote for the plan. I know it's hard, but let's all try to spell it: r·e·c·o·n·c·i·l·i·a·t·i·o·n.

And, hell, who says you need 60 votes to end debate, anyway? Why is it that no one will ever even consider anymore calling their damn bluff and forcing them to actually filibuster? This bill is important enough to undergo that tedium for a while, isn't it?

09 September 2009

Supreme Court could destroy popular influence on public affairs with Decision on Elections Case

This report in the L. A. Times concerns an issue that hasn't yet garnered much public attention. But if the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commsn. ends up building on its earlier rulings that campaign money is "speech" protected by the First Amendment and broadly rules that Corporate candidate donations cannot be limited by law, we will effectively see American politics come to be completely dominated by corporate interests.

I find it hard to imagine five justices choosing to so completely throw over protections of ordinary citizens' ability to influence the political process, but the trend in rulings of the Court in this area has been decidedly negative in recent years. If this horrible result were to come to pass, the only out would likely be a Constitutional Amendment, and that's very, very hard to do, especially in the present divisive political climate.

04 September 2009

Obama Gots Some Rethinkin' to Do

Now there's all kinds of reports that Progressives will be "disappointed" by Obama's Health Care Speech. Lemme put it straight: if the plan he lays out doesn't include a robust public option, we won't be "disappointed," we'll be really, really pissed at having been betrayed on this signature issue. Obama would not have won the presidency without the efforts (and money) of Progressive Democrats, and this promise was one of the big motivators.

With 84 members of the House, including Speaker Pelosi, on record that they will not vote for a bill that doesn't include a robust public option, I sure as hell hope the President rethinks this incredibly foolish strategy before next week, or likely as not there will be no health care bill at all.

There's no way around it: President Obama has messed up this whole issue very, very badly already. If he hopes to get back on track and accomplish something worth having, not to mention anything else during his Presidency, he had better do some serious rethinking and quick.

Part of that rethinking needs to be a realization that 84 House Progressives are more important than the illusion of bipartisanship, and that the only way we're going to pass this thing is by dropping any effort to woo Olympia Snowe or any other Republican and proceed by way of Reconciliation. And, frankly, if Obama and his people can't twist arms to get 50 votes in the Senate, then his leadership is seriously in doubt.

Among the things the President should be thinking about is which of his underperforming and tone-deaf advisors on this issue should be fired immediately. Or which dozen. 'Cause he's been getting some really, really bad advice lately.

After that, he can think about cleaning house in some other areas, too, because people who think like Obama talked when he was still a Senator have had serious concerns that this Administration has gone off track on a variety of issues:
  1. Real Financial Re-regulation
  2. Real Adherence to the Constitution in Detainee issues and 1st Amendment Issues
  3. Climate Change Agenda
  4. Tax Reform to end Tax Advantages for the Very Rich
  5. End Don't Ask Don't Tell already
  6. Recognize that Afghanistan is a disaster and needs to be completely reevaluated, with a plan for withdrawal

02 September 2009

Is the President Failing Us?

My "policy comment" to whitehouse.gov today:

If reports are true that President Obama will not demand the "public option" in a renewed push for a health care bill, the covenant will be broken, as far as I'm concerned: this president will have betrayed the people who elected him and rather definitively failed to establish himself as a major leader for progressive change. "Change we can believe in" will have become a hollow and false promise. Real universal health care was a keystone of his campaign agenda, and if the President fails to fight like hell to achieve it, and if he fails to insist and lead on the most important aspect of this reform agenda, I think it unlikely it will be achieved. Sure, some bill will pass, but genuine comprehensive reform will be doomed.

If the president were to use his bully pulpit to fight like hell for comprehensive reform, and the Congress failed him, I would see things differently, but as this debate has developed, I believe the inescapable conclusion is that it unless these reports turn out not to be true, it will be primarily he who has failed. He has not yet clearly articulated the minimum requirement, which he should understand requires the public option, and he has thusfar never really fought for this reform. The blame for its prospective failure must reside with him, in large measure, if it comes to pass, as seems likely now.

I am sharing these dismal thoughts with the White House in the hope that the President will reconsider. Health Care reform without the Public Option will not achieve cost savings, and will not achieve real universal coverage. It will fail. Its failure will be the President's failure, and will be irreparable. Please, Mr. President, reconsider any decision not to fight like your whole presidency depended on it for real health care reform -- BECAUSE IT DOES. We are counting on you, and we see defeat looming because of your inaction so far.