Who’s resisting health care reform?

September 23, 2009

Paul Joseph Poposky describes why the right has been able to take the initiative on health care--and why the Obama administration's proposals are much too little, too late.

RIGHT-WING, anti-health care reform protesters disrupted a town hall forum on August 6 at a middle school in Mehlville, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, this time resorting to violence.

The forum, scheduled by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), was originally meant to discuss senior citizens' health care issues, but turned violent when a right-wing mob assaulted Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2000 employee and former Green Party candidate for St. Louis Mayor Rev. Elston K. McCowan and several colleagues as they left the meeting.

McCowan was treated for a broken and dislocated shoulder, and several people involved in the scuffle were arrested. The next day SEIU issued a statement:

A Reverend and SEIU member (McCowan) was assaulted at a town hall dedicated to discussing our national health care crisis...A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and others who attended in hopes of a peaceful dialogue about our nation's health care crisis, endured the latest attempt by right-wing fringe groups to hijack the democratic process--through violence if necessary...

SEIU and hardworking women and men all over this country are standing up to their bullying tactics. We deserve a national conversation about how we will fix our failing health care system and help make this an economy that works for everyone.

On Saturday, August 8, nearly 200 anti-reform protesters, many of them involved in local "tea parties," gathered outside SEIU's St. Louis offices and demanded an "apology" for the violence which had been instigated by the right-wingers themselves. SEIU issued no additional comments, and the protesters dispersed without further incident.

But this is only one incident in what is becoming a pattern of disruptions. The media made disturbing reports of assaults, near-riots, lynchings in effigy and even death threats by right-wing activists directed at Democratic congressmen and health care reform supporters. One right-winger even went so far as to bring a handgun to a town hall in Arizona.

On August 11, a protester named William Kostric showed up outside President Obama's town hall meeting in New Hampshire wearing a logo T-shirt that read, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," a quote by Thomas Jefferson favored by infamous Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh.

To the shock of many, including law enforcement, Kostric also chose to attend the protest carrying a loaded handgun, which is legal in New Hampshire. Police kept Kostric under close surveillance as he handed out right-wing literature to the crowd. Kostric has told the media that he was only expressing his "freedom of speech," downplaying the seriousness of carrying a gun to a meeting with the president, and dismissing the obvious allegation that his true intent was to threaten or intimidate supporters of health care reform.

NOT TO be outdone, liberal talking-heads have fired back and pointed out the Republican Party campaign staffers, conservative think-tank activists and insurance industry and pharmaceutical lobbyists in photos from town halls that have been disrupted all across the country, dispelling the myth that these are "grassroots" protests.

On the Rachel Maddow Show, Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) said of the sometimes-violent town hall disruptions that "the first violence that's happening is violence in the democratic process. If people set out to disrupt town hall meetings, to intimidate people who sincerely want to discuss important issue, the first victim is the democracy itself."

That same evening, Maddow interviewed Tim Phillips, president of the conservative lobby group Americans for Prosperity and its front groups Patients United Now and Patients First, which have been bussing conservative organizers around the country to disrupt any debate over health care reform on behalf of the for-profit health industry.

At one point in the interview, Mr. Phillips became defensive as Maddow brought up Phillips' political and organizing history. Maddow defended her "gotcha" strategy, saying:

I think the American people also want to know who the players are in this fight and who's organizing what are being maintained as spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry, and aren't being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party...you have such an important role in coordinating these events, and I think the American people are curious. So I hope you don't feel like I've been unfair.

Maddow has a point, though she may be a bit closer to the truth for comfort. In all fairness, supporters of President Obama's proposed health insurance reforms need to take a look a bit closer to home before pinning the blame for the resistance to health insurance reform on radical right-wing fringe groups and the Republican Party.

It should strike one as odd that Baird expressed his concern for "the democratic process" being hurt by right-wing mobs disrupting town hall forums when a member of his own party, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mo.), took the initiative and blocked advocates of single-payer health care reform from participating in the first round of congressional hearings on health care legislative proposals earlier this year.

Why would Mr. Baucus hold a meeting of "all interested parties," inviting representatives of health maintenance organizations, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), for-profit hospitals and big insurance companies, but excluding representatives of the "everybody in, nobody left out" reform that is consistently preferred by up to 60 percent of Americans in polls?

Baucus is the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and Obama's point man for delivering legislative proposals that appeal to the corporate interests who bankrolled the Democrats in their electoral comeback in 2006 and 2008. Baucus has dozens of former campaign staffers and close friends working on K Street in D.C., lobbying on behalf of the big insurance companies and PhRMA. He was also the number-one recipient of campaign financing from the health care industry during the 2008 congressional elections, raising $1.1 million.

President Obama, no lightweight himself, received more financing from these interests than any other candidate in history, raking in a cool $19 million. No wonder Obama has retreated from his 2003 declaration:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. That's what I'd like to see.

Obama now insists that what we need is not health care as a human right, but to build on all of the "legacy systems in place" and "create a uniquely American solution to this problem that controls costs but preserves the innovation that is introduced in part with a free-market system."

Judging from recent events, the Democrats obviously aren't the only recipients of big contributions from the medical-industrial complex. While Democrats received nearly $90 million total, the Republican Party cashed around $76 million in checks from an industry determined to play both sides of the aisle, and all against the average American. So how much health insurance "reform" does $165 million buy?

THERE IS good reason for recent National Public Radio polls which show only 47 percent of Americans now support Obama's proposal for health care reform.

While media outlets like CBS, the New York Times and Yahoo have consistently shown for years that two-thirds of Americans want a publicly run, single-payer national health service (like the proposals in H.R. 676 or S.B. 703), the Obama administration and Democratic-controlled Congress have insisted on proposals that maintain the role of private insurance companies (which are the problem to begin with).

But the news only gets worse! Each of the current "ObamaCare" proposals in the House and Senate are built around "personal mandates," which will legally require adults to purchase insurance or pay stiff fines on their taxes each year; a page taken directly from Newt Gingrich's "Contract on America" and the MassCare program which has left over 600,000 un-insured in Massachusetts, despite two decades of promised "universal coverage"--which never came!

The much-lauded "public option" which was supposed to magically reduce costs of care by "competing" with private insurers, was originally said to be open to anyone who wanted it. The program, which was to accommodate a lean 130 million, has already been trimmed down to a puny 10 million potential enrollees.

Anyway, the public option is not likely to survive in any form at all, due to the massive pressure being applied by the Republican "recess roastings" of Democratic lawmakers who support the "option" and the reluctance of either party to bite the hand that feeds.

While Obama has said that early proposals to tax existing health benefits will not be part of his reform, Washington insiders say the option is still on the table. This will hit union and state workers especially hard, as their negotiated contracts generally include superior health plans to those available to most working people.

Giving the man the benefit of the doubt might not be such a good idea, either; in an early concession to the pharmaceutical industry, Democrats dropped proposals to empower the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices nationwide and import cheaper generics from Canada, breaking one of President Obama's key campaign promises.

After the 2007 début of Sicko, Michael Moore's disturbing documentary of the American health care nightmare, the traditionally conservative American Medical Association conducted a poll which showed 59 percent of doctors, nurses and health care service providers favor a national health program over the current system or the Obama proposed mandate-based system. It comes as no surprise that Obama and Co. are having trouble getting the American people excited about a plan that includes $500 billion in cuts to Medicare/Medicaid.

Numbers from the Congressional Budget Office indicate ObamaCare will cost taxpayers twice what a single payer system would, due to the large subsidies needed by ObamaCare to guarantee the profits of insurance companies, CEO salaries, dividends and redundant bureaucracies, all of which would be eliminated entirely by single payer. A single payer system, like the ones already in place in Canada, France, Spain and the UK would create new jobs and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

The worst news is that none of Obama's "reform"--if passed--will even take effect until 2013; far too late for the 20,000 Americans who die each year due to lack of health care coverage, and add to that an estimated 80,000 more who are killed every year by the current system of economically rationed care due to the insufficient services received by those who are under-insured or avoid treatment due to economic hardship. The question we all need to be asking is not "How much will this cost me?" but rather "How much money are 100,000 American lives a-year worth, and why?"

Obama keeps telling America that if we don't hurry up and pass his version of health care reform that we're letting the status quo win. The fact is ObamaCare won't challenge the status quo; ObamaCare will strengthen the status quo. After all, ObamaCare's biggest supporters are Harry and Louise.

ON AUGUST 6, liberal commentator Chris Mathews, host of MSNBC's Hardball
interviewed Gerald Shea, the health policy analyst for the AFL-CIO. At the end of the segment, Mathews delivered one of the hard-hitting questions he's known for. The following conversation occurred:

Mathews: Okay Gerald, I'm going to be tough with you for one minute. Are you guys going to back this health care plan, or are you going to bitch and moan and say it's not enough?

Shea: We are going to back it.

Mathews: You're going to back it.

Shea: Yes.

It is absolutely essential that union workers who are concerned about the rising cost of care--or the very real and terrifying possibility of losing a job and benefits in the current crisis--organize and bring pressure to bear on labor leadership to oppose ObamaCare and fight instead for a single-payer national health program.

On August 3, the San Francisco Labor Council took a step in the right direction, passing a resolution to propose support for single payer legislation at the AFL-CIO National Conference in September. The resolution states: "The Labor Movement has a special responsibility to aggressively address the social injustice of a broken health care system. Health care should be a right, not a privilege."

Obama and the Democrats courted organized labor and promised to support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in exchange for votes and campaign massive campaign contributions. Now that they are firmly entrenched in office and have achieved the so-called "super majority" we were all told would usher in a new era of progressive politics and prosperity, Democrat politicians have shown their true faces and betrayed the hopes of millions of workers. EFCA was gutted recently when congressional Democrats "compromised," removing provisions for card check.

When asked what it would take for single payer legislation to pass under the present political climate, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) answered grimly "nuclear weaponry." When asked the same question, Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program, a group that opposes ObamaCare and supports H.R. 676 (a reform proposal for a single-payer national health service), gave a more optimistic answer "We must build a civil rights movement like those that have come before."

Only labor has the resources, the membership base and organizational potential to wage the struggle for free, quality health care as a human right! The Democrats will not turn on their corporate handlers or move any further leftward than their financiers allow.

The solution is for the labor movement to break with the Democratic Party and run a campaign of its own for a single-payer national health service that eliminates the profit motive from health care, covers everyone and leaves no one behind. Imagine if all the resources the unions pour into the Democratic Party every year were instead used to fund

Labor candidates running on a fighting program, appealing to a broad layer of the working class, as well as the youth and all of the oppressed and exploited. Running its own candidates, an independent Labor Party based on the unions could win the sort of changes American workers can really believe in.

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