Today’s vote in the Senate to pass their health care reform bill was a big win for many people. It was a big win for the drug companies, the biologics industry, the hospital companies, and the for-profit health insurance corporations. They will all get billions of government dollars piled on to their ledgers, and and millions of Americans now forced to buy their products. The vote was also a huge win for the lobbyists who just saw their profits jump thanks to this great opportunity to show their clients just how powerful their hold on Washington really is.
This vote was also a political win. It was a big deal for politicians–like Barack Obama, Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and Harry Reid–who cared more about putting up a “W” on the scoreboard than about the policy. It was also a big day for senators like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. The incredibly broken rules of the Senate gave them an absurd amount of anti-constitutional power that allowed them to hold reform hostage for pork and industry favors.
It was loss for the country. Our broken health care system will remain broken and costs will continue to rise at an alarming rate. Things like drug re-importation and a robust public option, which would have helped bring down prices for millions of Americans, were stripped from the bill at the request of powerful industry lobbyists.
It was also a big loss for the progressive movement. We were out-gunned by industry lobbyists, and many of our movement “allies” failed us. A woman’s right to choose was thrown under the bus just to get something passed. The supposed “progressives” in the Senate refused to go all-out and use every tool to achieve the most progressive reform. Lawrence O’Donnell is right, most importantly, this bill will give liberalism a very bad name.
This is not progressive reform. This is a perverse Democratic version of Reagan style trickle down economics. Hundreds of billions will be given to poorly regulated private health insurance companies in the hope that they spend roughly 80% of that money on actually providing people with health care. It forces millions of people to buy very expensive insurance that they cannot afford to get actual health care, so that Democrats can proudly say millions more people are “covered.” Private health insurance companies are what have ruined our current system and are dramatically less efficient than public insurance programs, yet Democrats will use them almost exclusively. It is a massive reward for a history of terrible performance. Instead of reining in the insurance companies, it only enriches, empowers, and entrenches them further. The only “check” on the industry will be new regulations, but with extremely weak to practically non-existent enforcement, it is basically no check at all.
This program is not even a good foundation on which to build later reform. It will be a wasteful, expensive, and probably unpopular program for only a small subset of lower income Americans. That is a recipe for making it a target for cuts by conservatives, not expansion by progressives. This bill could easily discredit the move for true universal health care by being such a poorly designed failure.
There is some good in the bill, but not much. It will put roughly 15 million more people on Medicaid/CHIP, but mainly because the private insurance companies did not even want to cover these poor people. It will put some needed regulations on the books, but does not create the strong enforcement mechanisms to make them a reality. But these improvements come at a huge cost. There is a poorly designed tax that will cause many people’s insurance to get worse, a rollback of women’s reproductive rights, and a mandate forcing people to buy low quality, expensive insurance for unregulated private insurance companies. This bill will make the enemies of reform even stronger for the next fight.
The only silver lining is that we live in a bicameral constitutional democracy regardless of how much the Washington media refuses to acknowledge this basic fact. The House has passed a better bill that contains actual reform. If progressive House members would use their power to stop any bill that doesn’t contain real reform from becoming law, we could get actual reform. They need to stop enabling the Senate transformation of our government into a broken, unicameral, non-representative, super-majority plutocracy.
This Senate bill is not a step forward for progressivism, it is a step backward. It is part of the transformation of all-important public social responsibilities into a privatized profit- making machine that lives off of government money won through a corrupt cycle of lobbying, campaign donations, and corporate giveaways. This bill does not advance the progressive movement, it just uses its name and mantras to justify a huge industrial bailout. In the long run, I see this bill as discrediting the progressive movement, not advancing it. This problem is not that this bill is just small reform, it is unworkable reform doomed to fail.