Weekly Pulse: The Presidential Guilt Trip

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

During a strategy call with key congressional leaders last week, President Obama reportedly complained that liberal advocacy groups are attacking Democrats instead of trying to pass whatever healthcare bill the Senate happens to cough up.

During a strategy call with key congressional leaders last week,
President Obama reportedly complained that liberal advocacy groups are
attacking Democrats instead of trying to pass whatever healthcare bill
the Senate happens to cough up. I’m sure he put it more
charismatically, but according to the Washington Post, that was the gist.

The president was probably reacting to a spate criticism of
Democrats perceived to be dragging their feet on healthcare reform.
Democracy for America released a spot calling Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
a "sellout" for taking $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the
healthcare industry and failing to endorse a public plan. The naming
and shaming is unlikely to stop, regardless of the president’s
preferences. If progressives were to stop haranguing vulnerable
Democrats, they’d loose their main point of leverage on healthcare

Laura Flanders argues that progressives can’t afford to sit back and
let the healthcare industry do all the lobbying. She estimates that
industry groups are spending $1.4 million a day to influence the healthcare debate:

Why are [public plan fans] pushing so hard? Well,
consider what they’re up against. Pulling against anything remotely
public, is the biggest lobbying blitz Washington’s ever seen. The
Washington Post reports that private insurers, drug companies and their
representatives spent more than $126 million on lobbying in the first
quarter of this year.

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And they’ve hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress to do all that lobbying work.

Realistically, whose interests would actually prevail if
progressives worked to pass whatever bill lobbyists hashed out in the
Senate? Probably not ours. AfroNetizen links to a handy diagram showing
how many former Congressional staffers from key senate committees are lobbying their old bosses on behalf of the healthcare industry.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly wonders why the Democrats are so fixated on a creating a bipartisan healthcare bill in the first place:

What are the chances, my friend asked, that Republicans
would accept the importance of "bipartisanship" in shaping the policy?
What are the odds that GOP leaders would make a series of concessions
to Democrats, and tolerate Republican centrists who were toying with
the idea of siding with the minority party?

It reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend
of mine about an alternate universe. Imagine, my friend said, there was
a Republican president, working with large, obstructionist-proof
Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The Republican
president’s approval rating was about 60%, and he’d just won a popular
electoral mandate on a key issue, which Republicans have prioritized
literally for generations.

The answer, of course, is that Democrats lack party discipline. If
the Republicans were in charge, they’d hash out a plan within their own
caucus and apply pressure to bring the dissenters into line. Democratic
activists who criticize Landrieu and other wishy washy Dems are just
trying to impose some discipline from the bottom up.

In other health reform news, Paul Waldman argues in the Prospect that a public health insurance system is superior because, at the end of the day, private insurance companies want to take our money and deny us care.
It’s nothing personal, that’s just their business model. Private
companies have a huge profit incentive to cover as little as possible
or to place bureaucratic obstacles in the way of patients to discourage
them from taking advantage of the benefits they’re nominally entitled

Conservatives threaten that a public option will put a government
bureaucrat between patients and doctors. That’s a lie. In any kind of
insurance scheme, some "bureaucrat" has to make a decision about what
the plan will cover. In the public insurance system, bureaucrats answer
to politicians, who in turn answer to the people that use the system.
In a private system the bureaucrats answer to shareholders that demand
ever-increasing profits. Arithmetic dictates two basic ways to make
more money in the insurance business: Raising premiums or cutting
services. Insurance companies could theoretically save money by
becoming more efficient but for some reason they still spend much more
on administration than Medicare does to provide the same coverage.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tackles the insurance industry
mythology that people in other countries hate their "government run"
health insurance: "France’s system, however, is surprisingly American
in its basic underpinnings. And while no system comes out tops in
every single metric, French healthcare […] is better than ours on
almost all of them and does it for close to half the cost."

Finally, Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel have been playing good cop/bad cop
all week. While Obama has been swearing up and down that he supports a
full public plan, Emanuel has been saying that the White House would be
willing to cut a deal to create a public plan that only kicks in if
there isn’t "enough" competition in the private insurance market. It’s
tough to tell which of them is serious. Is Obama just placating
progressives while letting Rahm reassure the insurance companies of the
White House’s true agenda? Or is it Rahm who’s trying to placate the
insurance industry? It will be interesting to see how this game plays

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