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Promises, Promises: Should This Congress and This President Learn from a Little Lip Reading?

Should Democratic members of the House vote 'No' on any reform legislation that includes an excise tax on health benefits?  Even if it's now the President's preferred funding method for the healthcare insurance company bail-out bill (or health insurance reform bill, as it's known in the proper political framing terminology)?   And should they actually intend to vote 'No' and not just make threats followed by a seemingly begrudging 'Yes' vote?

Seems like a no-brainer to lots of folks.   The nurses of National Nurses United said this yesterday:

"It is unconscionable that workers and families with employer-sponsored health plans, who receive virtually no benefits from the proposed legislation, would have their health coverage taxed and seriously eroded," said Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of the 150,000 member National Nurses United, formed last month through a unification of the California Nurses Association/NNOC, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.   

To read the full statement here

It would only take 25 members taking that one stand on the basis that it is a betrayal of the millions of people who turned out to vote, work in phone banks, ride buses, walk precincts and so on - and many on the one single issue difference - John McCain will tax your benefits; we will not, said the Democratic Presidential contender.

I am afraid in this one way alone, many people will lump the promises Obama made together with all Dems.  Writing the broken promise campaign ads for the 2010 mid-terms will be made as simple as the anti-Republican ads were in 1992 following 1988 the Bush I classic campaign promise, "Read my lips: no new taxes."  As President, Bush I broke those clear promises, raised taxes after all, and we all know how that played, and played and played.

Here's what the quote was - and still reads today-- on the Obama "Organizing for America" website: McCain's stance on health care:

"John McCain's health plan would tax health benefits for the first time ever - imposing a trillion tax increase on working families and leaving millions without heath care." (

And here's how then candidate Obama said he'd pay for reform-again from the OFA website:  "Barack Obama will pay for his $50 - $65 billion health care reform effort by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 per year and retaining the estate tax at its 2009 level." (

And because this time around the next available expression opportunity for voters and citizens to act on their frustration and anger comes in November 2010 at the polls - or in staying home from the polls - the risk of breaking a promise - no taxation of healthcare benefits -- that was so central to the success of the Obama candidacy is magnified.  Obama isn't on the ticket this time.

So, have the Dems learned that lesson from history?  I do not think the political costs of this one single failing can be overstated for the Dems. 

A way out of this mess is available to the folks with just a smidgeon of common sense and a tidbit of courage:

  • Vote against the bill with an excise tax on health benefits to protect working people from shouldering the brunt of this insurance bail-out bill;
  • Vote against the bill with an excise tax on health benefits because it's a betrayal of promises made on the campaign trail - and promises made still matter;
  • Vote against the bill with an excise tax on health benefits because it will not "bend the cost curve" on healthcare expenses;
  • Vote against the bill with an excise tax on health benefits because it will cost the Democrats the majority in the Senate and perhaps the House too in 2010 and potentially the White House in 2012 - and it will cost us so very much more for generations.

In that order of reasons.  That's what I would do if I was advising this gang.  And I would stand firm. 

Otherwise, you will be a party to handing President Obama his own destruction in the form of a bill so fraught with problems that it destroys hope of healthcare justice for years to come.  And that is not the legacy this Congress or this President wants to leave.

The Republicans started out promising to tax health benefits; the Democrats promised not to.  Promise made and promise relied upon by voters should equate to promise kept.  Wouldn't it be just the game changing thing if President Obama now said he intended to keep that promise? 

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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