Finally, as promised, a Special Comment on the
latest version of H-R 35-90, the Senate Health Care Reform bill. To
again quote Churchill after Munich, as I did six nights ago on this
program: "I will begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome
thing: that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, without a
Last night on this program Howard Dean said that
with the appeasement of Mr. Lieberman of Connecticut by the abandonment
of the Medicare Buy-in, he could no longer support H-R 35-90. Dr.
Dean's argument is informed, cogent, heart breaking, and
Seeking the least common denominator, Sen. Reid has found it,
especially the "least" part. This is not health, this is not care, this
is certainly not reform. I bless the Sherrod Browns and Ron Wydens and
Jay Rockefellers and Sheldon Whitehouses and Anthony Weiners and all
the others who have fought for real reform and I bleed for the pain
inflicted upon them and their hopes. They have done their jobs and
served their nation.
But through circumstances beyond their control, they are now seeking to
reanimate a corpse killed by the Republicans, and by a political game
played in the Senate and in the White House by men and women who have
now proved themselves poorly equipped for the fight. The "men" of the
current moment, have lost to the "mice" of history.
They must now not make the defeat worse by passing a hollow shell of a
bill just for the sake of a big-stage signing ceremony. This bill,
slowly bled to death by the political equivalent of the leeches that
were once thought state-of-the-art-medicine, is now little more than a
series of microscopically minor tweaks of a system which is the
real-life, here-and-now version, of the malarkey of the Town Hallers.
The American Insurance Cartel is the Death Panel, and this Senate bill
does nothing to destroy it. Nor even to satiate it.
It merely decrees that our underprivileged, our sick, our elderly, our
middle class, can be fed into it, as human sacrifices to the great maw
of corporate voraciousness, at a profit per victim of 10 cents on the
dollar instead of the current 20. Even before the support columns of
reform were knocked down, one by one, with the kind of passive defense
that would embarrass a touch-football player - single-payer, the public
option, the Medicare Buy-In - before they vanished, the Congressional
Budget Office estimated that the part of this bill that would require
you to buy insurance unless you could prove you could not afford it,
would cost a family of four with a household income of 54-thousand
dollars a year, 17 percent of that income. Nine thousand dollars a
year. Just for the insurance!
That was with a public option. That was with some kind of check on the
insurance companies. That was before - as Howard Dean pointed out - the
revelation that the cartel will still be able to charge older people
more than others; will - at the least - now be able to charge much
more, maybe 50 percent more, for people with pre-existing conditions -
pre-existing conditions; you know, like being alive.
You have just agreed to purchase a product. If you do not, you will be
breaking the law and subject to a fine. You have no control over how
much you will pay for the product. The government will have virtually
no control over how much the company will charge for the product. The
product is designed like the Monty Python sketch about the insurance
company's "Never-Pay" policy ... "which, you know, if you never claim -
is very worthwhile. But you had to claim, and, well, there it is."
And who do we have to blame for this? There are enough villains to go
around, men and women who, in a just world, would be the next to get
sick and have to sell their homes or their memories or their futures -
just to keep themselves alive, just to keep their children alive,
against the implacable enemy of American society, the insurance cartel.
Mr. Grassley of Iowa has lied, and fomented panic and fear. Mr. DeMint
of South Carolina has forgotten he represents people, and not just a
political party. Mr. Baucus of Montana has operated as a virtual agent
for the industry he is charged with regulating. Mr. Nelson of Nebraska
has not only derailed reform, he has tried to exploit it to overturn a
Supreme Court decision that, in this context, is frankly none of his
They say they have done what they have done for the most important, the
most fiscally prudent, the most gloriously phrased, the most
inescapable of reasons. But mostly they have done it for the money.
Lots and lots of money from the insurance companies and the
pharmacological companies and the other health care companies who have
slowly taken this country over.
Which brings us to Mr. Lieberman of Connecticut, the one man at the
center of this farcical perversion of what a government is supposed to
be. Out of pique, out of revenge, out of betrayal of his earlier wiser
saner self, he has sold untold hundreds of thousands of us into pain
and fear and privation and slavery - for money. He has been bought and
sold by the insurance lobby. He has become a Senatorial prostitute. And
sadly, the President has not provided the leadership his office demands.
He has badly misjudged the country's mood at all ends of the spectrum.
There is no middle to coalesce here, Sir. There are only the
uninformed, the bought-off, and the vast suffering majority for whom
the urgency of now is a call from a collection agency or a threat of
rescission of policy or a warning of expiration of services.
Sir, your hands-off approach, while nobly intended and perhaps yet some
day applicable to the reality of an improved version of our nation,
enabled the national humiliation that was the Town Halls and the
insufferable Neanderthalian stupidity of Congressman Wilson and the
street-walking of Mr. Lieberman.
Instead of continuing this snipe-hunt for the endangered and possibly
extinct creature "bipartisanship," you need to push the Republicans
around or cut them out or both. You need to threaten Democrats like
Baucus and the others with the ends of their careers in the party.
Instead, those Democrats have threatened you, and the Republicans have
pushed you and cut you out.
Mr. President, the line between "compromise" and "compromised" is an
incredibly fine one. Any reform bill enrages the right, and provides it
with the war cry around which it will rally its mindless legions in the
midterms and in '12. But this Republican knee-jerk inflexibility
provides an incredible opportunity to you, Sir, and an incredible
On April 6th 2003, I was approached by two drunken young men at a
baseball game. One of them started to ask for an autograph. The other
stopped him by shouting "Screw him, he's a liberal." This program had
been on the air for three weeks. It had to that point consisted
entirely of brief introductions to correspondents in Iraq or to
military analysts. There had been no criticism, no political analysis,
no commentary. I had not covered news full-time for more than four
years. I could not fathom on what factual basis, I was being called a
"liberal," let alone being sworn at for being such.
Only later did it dawn on me that it didn't matter why, and it didn't
matter that they were doing it - it only mattered that if I was going
to be mindlessly criticized for anything, the reaction would be
identical whether I did nothing that engendered it, or stood for
something that engendered it.
Mr. President, they are calling you a socialist, a communist, a
Marxist. You could be further to the right than Reagan - and this
health care bill, as Howard Dean put it here last night, this bailout
for the insurance industry, sure invites the comparison. And they will
still call you names.
Sir, if they are going to call you a socialist no matter what you do,
you have been given full unfettered freedom to do what you know is
just. The bill may be the ultimate political manifesto, or it may be
the most delicate of compromises. The firestorm will be the same. So
why not give the haters, as the cliché goes, something to cry about.
But concomitant with that is the reaction from Democrats and
Independents. You have riven them, Sir. Any bill will engender
criticism but this bill costs you the left - and anybody who now has to
pony up 17 percent of his family's income to buy this equivalent of
Medical Mobster Protection Money.
Some speaking for you, Sir, have called the public option a fetish.
They may be right. But to stay with this uncomfortable language, this
bill is less fetish, more bondage. Nothing short of your re-election
and the re-election of dozens of Democrats in the house and senate,
hinges in large part on this bill. Make it palatable or make it go away
or make yourself ready - not merely for a horrifying campaign in 2012 -
but for the distinct possibility also of a primary challenge.
Befitting the season, Sir, these are not the shadows of the things that
will be, but the shadows of the things that may be. But at this point,
Mr. President, only you can make certain of that. There is only one
redemption possible. The mandate in this bill under which we are
required to buy insurance must be stripped out.
The bill now is little more than a legally mandated delivery of the
middle class (and those whose dreams of joining it slip ever further
away) into a kind of Chicago stockyards of insurance. Make enough money
to take care of yourself and your family and you must buy insurance -
on the insurers terms - or face a fine.
This provision must go. It is, above all else, immoral and a betrayal
of the people who elected you, Sir. You must now announce that you will
veto any bill lacking an option or buy-in, but containing a mandate.
And Sen. Reid, put the public option back in, or the Medicare Buy-In,
or both. Or single-payer. Let Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Baucus and
the Republicans vote their lack-of-conscience and preclude 60 "ayes."
Let them commit political suicide instead of you.
Let Mr. Lieberman kill the bill - then turn to his Republican friends
only to find out they hate him more than the Democrats do. Let him
stagger off the public stage, to go work for the insurance industry. As
if he is not doing that now.
Then, Mr. Reid, take every worthwhile provision of health care reform
you legally can, and pass it via reconciliation, when ever and how ever
you can - and by the way, a Medicare Buy-In can be legally passed via
reconciliation. The Senate bill with the mandate must be defeated, if
not in the Senate, then in the House.
Health care reform that benefits the industry at the cost of the people
is intolerable and there are no moral constructs in which it can be
supported. And if still the bill and this heinous mandate become law
there is yet further reaction required. I call on all those whose
conscience urges them to fight, to use the only weapon that will be
left to us if this bill becomes law. We must not buy federally mandated
insurance if this cheesy counterfeit of reform is all we can buy.
No single payer? No sale. No public option? No sale. No Medicare
buy-in? No sale. I am one of the self-insured, albeit by choice. And I
hereby pledge that I will not buy this perversion of health care
reform. Pass this at your peril, Senators, and sign it at yours, Mr.
President. I will not buy this insurance. Brand me a lawbreaker if you
choose. Fine me if you will. Jail me if you must.
But if the Medicare Buy-In goes, but the Mandate stays, the people who
fought so hard and so sincerely to bring sanity to this system must
kill this mutated version of their dream, because those elected by us
to act for us have forgotten what must be the golden rule of health
care reform. It is the same one to which physicians are bound, by oath:
First do no harm.