Friday, September 25, 2009

Health Care Friday:

Sully: Shrinking The Tent
David Frum continues his debate with David Horowitz:
I speak out against people like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck because in my estimation they do enormous harm to the causes in which I believe. In my view, the talk-and-Fox complex marginalizes Republicans – and backs us into demagogic and unsustainable political positions. David, do you really want to abolish the Federal Reserve? Do you think the United States should have allowed Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks to follow Lehman into bankruptcy in October 2008? Do you think that any cuts to Medicare amount to a death panel for grandma? Do you think we can sustain an adequate military – never mind finance future tax reductions – if we allow healthcare to continue rising from its current 16% of GDP to a projected 20% of GDP a decade from now if nothing changes?
I can’t believe you do. And if you don’t believe these things, is it not dangerous to have talk-and Fox whipping a couple of million conservatives into frenzy over things that are not true?
David has ammunition in the latest NYT poll. It shows some cooling on Obama - but only from ridiculously high levels. But the verdict on Republicans is devastating:

76 percent said Republicans had not even laid out a clear health care plan. And by a lopsided margin, respondents said that Mr. Obama and not Republicans had made an effort to cross party lines and strike a deal that has the support of both parties. ... Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they believed Republicans in Congress were opposing Mr. Obama’s bill only for political gain, rather than because they believed it was bad for the country; just over half said Democrats in Congress backed the bill for political reasons.
Just 30 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans in Congress. By contrast, 47 percent said they had a favorable view of Congressional Democrats.
In stoking the base, the GOP has persuaded the center that they are not a serious party interested in governing.
During yesterday's Senate Finance Committee debate on health care reform, a frustrated Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) noted that the private insurance industry is "running certain people" in the Senate.
It's demonstrably true. Consider this week's controversy surrounding Humana, one of the nation's leading private insurers. The company opposes policymakers finding cost savings though reducing unnecessary spending in Medicare Advantage -- it would undermine their profits -- so it began lobbying its customers with misleading propaganda. Because Humana receives a whole lot of public funds, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services instructed Humana to stop its taxpayer-subsidized misinformation campaign.
Republicans threw a fit on Tuesday, and ratcheted things up late yesterday.
The rhetorical war over an alleged attempt by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Obama administration to "muzzle" insurance companies critical of their health care plan intensified Thursday, with Republicans accusing Democrats of violating federal guidelines and threatening to filibuster a host of executive branch nominations. [...]
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, top Senate Republicans demanded that HHS immediately lift the "gag order" and warned that they would filibuster any HHS nominees until she does so.
According to Roll Call, the administration has five pending HHS nominees awaiting Senate approval, and five more vacancies awaiting nominations. The entire Senate Republican leadership team wants to block any and all consideration of these nominees until Humana is allowed to start using tax dollars to mislead seniors again.
"This is pretty simple," a senior Democratic Senate aide said. "All the GOP spinning in the world can't hide the fact that Republicans continue to protect big insurance companies who mislead seniors. This latest attempt is bizarre and untrue pushback -- CMS has always said providers can communicate with their beneficiaries as long as it's done in an accurate and truthful way. The letter from Humana clearly wasn't -- it was both false and misleading. CMS did the right thing protecting seniors from these scare tactics."
GOP lawmakers generally avoid acting like they've been bought and paid for, which makes this week's tantrum in support of Humana propaganda so foolish. We're talking about an insurer, which has seen its annual profits soar nine-fold this decade, and which recently had to settle fraud and racketeering cases. McConnell & Co. are going to the wall to fight for its ability to engage in publicly-funded lying?
As of last night, the Obama administration said it's ignoring the Republican leadership's demands. Here's hoping officials stick to their guns on this.

Taking a stand on a public option  Sept. 24: Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, tells msnbc's Rachel Maddow that he and Senator Rockefeller will insist on a roll call vote for public option Friday.

Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), two of the leading proponents of an ambitious and progressive health care reform effort, will be leading the charge today in the Senate Finance Committee on a public option. On a conference call yesterday, they sounded surprisingly optimistic.
"The health care bill that is signed into law by the President will have a good, strong, robust public option," Schumer said.
How that will happen remains an open question. But the Senators assured reporters on the call that we're all going to get a taste of their passion and persuasiveness on this issue at the ongoing Senate Finance Committee hearings on Friday.
"I think it's a great idea," Rockefeller said of the public option. "Chuck Schumer thinks it's a great idea. And we're going to be all over it tomorrow."
Schumer said there will be a "full-blown debate" and that "even though the public option might be the underdog in the Senate Finance Committee, don't count it out."
"Tomorrow is the opening day in our big fight," he said.
That sounds pretty exciting, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on the public option getting out of the Finance Committee. Rockefeller said there's a "good shot" that the panel will approve the measure. I'm not sure how -- Dems have a 13-10 margin on the committee, but at least two Dems (Conrad and Lincoln) oppose the provision, and even Chairman Max Baucus is likely to vote against it. Indeed, it's long been assumed that the public option has no shot in the committee, and would have to be considered later in the process.
Nevertheless, spirited support for the measure is welcome, and if/when it falls short today, we can expect Schumer and Rockefeller to push even more aggressively if/when the bill progresses.
What's more, they certainly won't be the only ones. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on MSNBC yesterday that he, too, is optimistic about the public option's chances. "Not every Democrat right now would prefer the public option in the Senate," Brown told Ed Schultz, "but no Democrat in the end is going to vote against a procedural question to kill the health care bill." I wish I could say I share his confidence.
As for the House, the leadership is still in an awkward spot -- keep the public option and lose Blue Dogs, scrap the public option and lose the left. Ryan Grim had a very interesting report late yesterday on the Blue Dog whip count, which showed many center-right Democrats with higher priorities than this one provision.
"Blocking a public health insurance option is a relatively low priority for conservative Blue Dog Democrats, according to an ongoing survey of its members," Grim reported. "The fading House opposition could clear the way for the public option to move through the chamber."

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