Weekly Pulse: Obama Stalls for Time with Health Care Summit

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama’s February 25 health care summit, where he will appear on TV with Republican leaders, has been hailed and assailed as yet another gesture towards bipartisanship. But the summit is really a delaying tactic. It’s a decoy, something shiny to keep the chattering classes entertained while Congressional Democrats wheel and deal furiously behind the scenes.

At this point, there are two ways forward, and neither of them require Republican support. The first option is for the House to pass the Senate health care bill as written—but with the understanding that the Senate will later fix certain contentious parts of the bill through reconciliation. The second option is for the Senate to pass the reconciliation fix first and the House to pass the bill later.

Someone has to go first

Art Levine of Working In These Times diagnoses a severe case of paralysis on the left: Nancy Pelosi is willing to entertain the first option, but labor leaders like Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, want the Senate to go first because they don’t trust the Senate to fix the bill later. Nobody wants to go first, but somebody has to. If neither the House nor the Senate takes the initiative, reform will fail by default and Americans will continue to suffer.

If the Democrats are going to attempt reconciliation, they need a plan to steer the legislation through the Senate. While everyone else is talking about the summit, procedural experts are probably huddling with leadership, nailing down the details.

Obama’s ‘Waterloo’

Everyone knows that Obama isn’t going to pick up any Republican votes, summit or no summit. The House bill got 1 Republican vote, the Senate bill got 0. Quite simply, Republicans want health care reform to fail. No Republican president since Richard Nixon has attempted comprehensive health care reform. In opposition, Republicans have been intractably opposed reform because they’re afraid the Democrats will take credit for it. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) famously said he wanted “break” Obama by making health reform the president’s “Waterloo.”

Health care reform in the media

Meanwhile, as Monica Potts notes in TAPPED, the media seems to be bending over backwards to treat the Republican’s pro forma suggestions as serious proposals for reform, even though the Congressional Budget Office has already analyzed the plan and determined that it will leave millions uninsured without lowering costs. The health care bills as written are already chock full of Republican proposals, like eliminating the public option, easing restrictions on buying insurance across state lines, allowing people to band together in insurance-purchasing coops.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones worries that the upcoming summit will just give the Republicans more free airtime to spread falsehoods about “government controlled health care.”

Voices of the uninsured

This week, The Nation is publishing the stories of some of the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans: An uninsured woman who was diagnosed with throat cancer last month; a father with a severely disabled son who is about to hit is $5 million lifetime insurance benefit cap; a single mom on the verge of medical bankruptcy; and many others.

In other news

Dr. Gabor Maté, the official physician of Canada’s only supervised drug injection site, talks about the science of addiction and his new book with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!.

Todd A. Heywood reports in the Michigan Messenger that American Family Association of Michigan is doubling down in the dying days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Not only do they want to ban gays from the military, they want to re-criminalize homosexuality.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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DC Hubbub and What it Means For the Climate Bill

As I sit here writing, I have the White House Health Care Summit running in the background. This is the meeting where President Obama invited Congressional leaders to sit down at the table in front of the American public and talk about how to find common ground over what has become a very divisive, political debate about healthcare.

So far, I am hearing the Republicans say "start over" and Democrats say "we can't wait" ad nauseum. I say, "Lock them in the room, get out a piece of paper and pencils, and start writing."

But despite the discouraging aspects of this Blair House rhetorical rumble, I think there are a few signs of hope -- and those signs may bode well for action on clean energy and climate change.

Transparency. As annoying as I find much of the actual healthcare summit oratory, I love that this speechifying smackdown is being done on TV. I thought both sides articulated their views very well and I think that those watching walked away with a better understanding of where everyone stands. It was a very thoughtful debate. (I also think that a lot of their points led to a collective shrug from the public because, well, I hate to break it to them but they kind of agreed most of the time. It leads me to ask - so, what is the hold up? But, back to the point.) I also thought it was great last month whenPresident Obama spent a significant amount of time debating the Republicans at their retreat about everything from clean energy and climate legislation to foreign policy. Once again, the public was given the opportunity to understand the issue with fewer soundbites and more substance. I think that this trend toward a transparent, televised process would bode well for a climate bill.

Whether it is the grossly exaggerated claims of consumer cost or the inaccurate, overstated accusations of scientific error, climate legislation has been seriously wounded by the 30-second misinformed soundbite. A televised debate would hopefully reveal the very real benefits of addressing climate change and properly explain why a cap on global warming pollution is necessary not only to ensure a cleaner environment - but to give companies the incentive they need to invest in clean energy technologies , create jobs, and make us less dependent on oil-rich, terror-sympathizing countries.

Signs of Bipartisanship. With healthcare, just having the two sides argue in public is a move toward bipartisanship, but on climate, folks from both parties have already taken the step of locking themselves in a room together with paper and pencils. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been working with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for weeks as they draft a comprehensive climate and energy bill. His willingness to put politics aside is the first step towards finding a solution.

 

And there are other positive signs. Last week, five Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to overcome a procedural hurdle on the jobs bill. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kit Bond (R-MO) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio)--

voted to end a filibuster so that the bill, a $13 billion program to give companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of the year on new employees, could get a final vote.

In almost all ways, comparing the jobs bill to energy and climate legislation is like comparing apples and oranges. However, in the way that may matter most - getting moderates from both parties to vote their minds instead of their parties - it opened the door to bipartisanship. That is hopefully where we can resume building momentum on climate.

Signs of Accountability. One of the greatest things that started today in tandem with the healthcare summit is a new age of accountability. The visionaries over at The Sunlight Foundation provided its own interactive broadcast of the proceedings over the Internet. Broadcasting over the web isn't the revolutionary part -- what is really terrific is that as each politician spoke, Sunlight would post campaign contributions that the person speaking has received, "their connections to lobbyists and industry, personal finances, and key votes that the leaders have made on health care in the past."

As these Members spoke, you could learn about their ties and it was fascinating to see the dots so clearly connected. Now, having worked for Members of Congress, I can certainly tell you that elected officials don't always vote they way their donors ask. However, it was incredibly enlightening to have that background available as they spoke. In a world where there are approximately eight healthcare lobbyists for each Member of Congress, it was very good to be able to really view the playing field and now the full scope of influence.

Greater accountability is also catching fire in the clean energy debate where bloggers, public interest groups, and media outlets are starting to ask who has their pockets lined by big polluters. Just go to http://www.polluterharmony.org and you can see who has found their "true political love" with dirty fuels. By putting all the pieces together, we can get a fuller picture of someone's intentions and that can only lead to better legislation that is written in the interest of the people.

 

In many ways, Washington should co-opt Chicago's title as the "Windy City" after today's healthcare summit. But there is reason to hope. Transparency, bipartisanship, and accountability will hopefully emerge as long-term trends that offer hope to every progressive issue. 

The Reform That, to the White House, Dare Not Speak Its Name

"In this effort, every voice must be heard. Every idea must be considered. Every option must be on the table." -- President Obama, opening the White House health care summit.

Except one idea, apparently. The one reform that will actually contain health care costs, cited by the President as his main goal, and, as a bonus, solve the healthcare crisis --  single payer, or expanding and upgrading Medicare to cover everyone.

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