Friday Talking Points [68] -- Obamacare Pre-Emptive Strike, And An Anti-Rush Slogan Contest

[ Posted Friday, March 6th, 2009 – 18:08 UTC ]

If you're just browsing by for the Rush Limbaugh contest, you can just scroll down to the end, to talking point number seven. Because we're going to talk health care for a while first.

As lefty as this column can be at times (ahem, sorry about that), sometimes this column must adapt tactics which usually originate from the righties. Which means it is time for a pre-emptive attack on what appears to be the emerging Republican position on revamping our nation's health care system. Call it the number one contender for the anti-Obamacare position -- before "the Obamacare position" is even close to actually being defined. In other words, it's a pre-emptive strike by the other side. And it needs to be countered swiftly, logically, and decisively -- in order to cut it off at its figurative knees before it even has a chance to stand on its own -- by a pre-emptive strike of our own.

OK, even I admit that I'm now lost in the metaphors tactically deployed in the previous paragraph. I'll do my best to simplify the argument here, while refraining from such literary excess.

One of the most intriguing proposals for improving health care in America -- without dictating sweeping changes in the health-care insurance industry, mind you -- seems to be to let government compete with private industry.

That's it in a nutshell. And the mere concept is driving Republicans berserk.

Democrats, perhaps goaded on by Obama, tried to introduce this into the debate during the stimulus package fracas. The idea was to let anyone on unemployment -- at their choice -- to qualify for Medicaid, instead of having to continue to pay outrageous monthly charges under the current "COBRA" system. Because people who have just been fired often choose not to participate in a program which can cost them thousands of dollars per month to insure their families. The idea was to offer them an alternative -- Medicaid -- without the usual onerous requirements of having to sell everything of value you own in order to qualify.

Republicans howled at this, as expected. The provision was stripped out, and in its place was inserted a provision to cut the cost of COBRA by 65% for the recently-unemployed.

This avoided the dread consequence of letting Americans choose between that dreaded "socialist" government-run health care which would... I don't know... cause two-headed babies to be born, or something. I must admit, I don't always keep up with the current arguments from the other side. It's a lack I'll just have to live with, I guess.


Anyway, the subject will return now that Obama has convened his working group on health care reform. The idea is simple: allow the government to compete in the health care marketplace. Give people a choice of private health insurance, or signing up with government health insurance. And Republicans hate the idea.

This, it needs forcefully pointing out, goes completely against the Republican creed of worshiping the free market. And that's not the only way it is intellectually dishonest of them to oppose such an experiment.

Republicans are afraid that the idea will be wildly popular. They're afraid that people, given the choice, would rather pick (cue scary music) a government-run health care plan than one offered by private insurers.

Now, there are a number of conclusions you can draw from this. The most obvious is that maybe, just maybe, government-run health care isn't such a bad idea. Because if it truly was horrendous, people would not sign up for it. No matter how Republicans weep and moan, they cannot escape this basic fact. Because allowing people the choice is not the same thing as "government taking over everyone's health care" no matter how you slice it.

Allow me to quote from a recent letter sent to the White House by five Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell:

Forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an un-level playing field and inevitably doom true competition. Ultimately, we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market. This would take health care decisions out of doctors and patients and place them in the hands of another Washington bureaucracy.

Got that? We can't do it because it would work too well. The Republicans are admitting, right there in black and white, that if this option were offered, everyone would sign up. Their doom scenario doesn't exist unless you concede the point that people would flock to it. Although how this would "take" the decision from anyone is left unsaid, because it is completely false. Offering a consumer more choices -- choices that they are free to take or free to ignore -- is the very definition of competition in the marketplace. And this is what Republicans are supposed to be all about.

Now, you could argue that because government won't have to worry about a profit, they can offer the same thing at a cheaper price. This is already proven by the fact that government health care plans typically spend about three percent on overhead, while private insurance spends fifteen percent. But you know what? I'm actually OK with that. Anything which lowers the price of health care can't be too bad.

The whole issue easily boils down to a bumper sticker: "Don't like government health care? Then don't sign up for it!" That's all we're asking, really.

In any case, I will return to this subject in the talking points, but for now let's get the weekly awards out of the way.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Senator Patrick Leahy deserves mention here for his ongoing efforts to find out exactly what was done by the Bush administration in our name. He held a hearing this week to further the idea, but his Truth Commission scheme didn't move forward much as a result. So while he didn't win the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, he at least deserves a hat tip for his continuing efforts.

This week, for only the third time in this column's history, we have a winner of both the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week! For the curious, the only other person to pull this off (twice!) was Hillary Clinton, who swept the categories last April and almost exactly one year ago today.

I just wanted to point that out up front, to counter the howls of outrage from some when they read that this week's MIDOTW award goes to Representative Ellen Tauscher, for introducing a bill this past week to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of excluding gays from the military. She reportedly had 112 co-sponsors of the legislation, and with Barack Obama in the White House if it passes it does not face a veto threat. Obama has been slow to tackle this issue, which isn't surprising when you consider how it weakened Bill Clinton's first few months in office.

But Tauscher isn't satisfied with waiting, and is going forward with her bill. And for that, she is awarded the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Representative Ellen Tauscher on her House contact page to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

We actually have a three-way tie for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

First up is the aforementioned Ellen Tauscher, who led the New Democrat Coalition in watering down a bill to allow bankruptcy judges to reset mortgage terms on the primary residence of people who are seeking bankruptcy protection. This is a fairly commonsense bill, but Tauscher led a group of centrist Democrats in an effort to "improve" the bill, which succeeded. Tauscher will receive her MDDOTW award with a special little plaque on the front which reads "With friends like these..."

But Tauscher isn't our only winner this week (sad to say). The second MDDOTW award goes out to Sanjay Gupta, who just withdrew his name for consideration for Surgeon General, ostensibly to "spend more time with his family." That's got to be some kind of record, since this is usually the euphemistic excuse given by people when they leave government service (often under a cloud). But to my memory, this is the first time I've heard it used before entering government service. The real reason is, of course, that the job doesn't pay nearly as much money as Gupta is accustomed to getting from CNN, where he is "chief medical correspondent." I guess Gupta didn't get the memo that greed is no longer in fashion. Or something. For this pathetic waste of everyone's time, Gupta gets his own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week (assuming he's a Democrat, that is).

And finally, a MDDOTW award goes out to whoever screwed up in the Senate this week on the 2009 omnibus budget bill (Harry Reid, I am looking in your direction...). This bill made it through the House, and was on its way to making it through the Senate when it got derailed by Republicans. They somehow forced one of those cloture votes on the bill, and Democrats didn't have the 60 votes necessary to stop them. But -- here's the key -- they should not have been able to do this. This bill seems to me to be a fine candidate for "reconciliation," which is a fancy way of saying "budget bills can't be filibustered." Got that? Omnibus budget bills are supposed to be unfilibusterable (is that even a word?). There are a few legislative details the bill is supposed to go through to qualify for this special treatment, and I'm thinking that someone in the Senate (Harry? Senator Reid? I'm still looking at you...) screwed up and didn't qualify it in the necessary fashion.

This could have been avoided. President Obama could have had this bill on his desk today. But somebody didn't have the intelligence (or the backbone) to play some legislative hardball (all eyes turn to Harry Reid once more). For this, whoever is truly responsible (while Harry Reid is the obvious suspect, I cannot actually prove that he's the one responsible) gets an in absentia MDDOTW award. And, while we can tolerate this stupidity once, we are putting the Senate Democrats on notice: this better not happen with the 2010 budget. A majority is only useful if you use the power you are given.

[Contact Tauscher using the link from the MIDOTW. Contact your own Democratic Senator from the Senate website to tell them to please use the reconciliation process next time.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 68 (3/7/09)

OK, on to the talking points part of our program. As usual, we provide these especially for Democrats who may have a media interview scheduled this weekend. But everyone else is free to use them as well, when talking to your relatives in the red states.

This week's offering centers on health care, as I warned earlier. But there are two at the end just for fun as well (add your suggestions for the last one to the comments!).


   So you'll be giving up your health care, then?

We start off by taking a skewer to all Republican politicians on health care.

"So, Senator Windbag, since you have such a deep belief that government tax dollars should never go to health care because it's such an evil thing, when will you be giving up your taxpayer-funded health care? If the public is allowed to pay for your health care through their tax dollars, why shouldn't it be allowed to pay for its own as well? Anyone who argues against government health care while accepting government health care paid by taxpayers is an enormous hypocrite, in my book."


   Let the people choose

This one is easy, since it consists of using traditional Republican arguments against them.

"Republicans are supposed to be the party which trusts the people to make their own decisions. Why are they so against allowing citizens to make their own minds up over whether government health care is a good thing? What are they afraid of? If government health care is such a big bad wolf -- which Republicans have been telling us for years -- then nobody will sign up for it. Democrats are trying to give the people another choice. We trust the people to decide for themselves, rather than having some Republican politician deny them this choice."


   If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

I don't know why, but that lyric seemed to sum it up. It's from a band called "Rush," so maybe the whole Limbaugh fracas subliminally drove me to quote it, I don't know. This one comes from the abortion battles -- use the word "choice" as much as possible.

"Republicans, by denying the choice of whether to sign up for government health care, are in essence making that choice for everyone. They have chosen not to allow the people to have the choice for themselves. We want everyone to have the option, and we trust people to make their own minds up about it. Why won't the Republicans let you choose your own health care? Why are Republicans in Washington smarter about your health care than you are? Let the people decide! That's all we want to do. Give the people the choice."


   They know they're wrong

By their own argument, Republicans are admitting they've been wrong all along about the popularity of government-run health care.

"I quote from a letter five leading Republicans recently sent the White House: 'Ultimately, we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market.' But to get to this supposed 'doom' scenario, it means that everyone would choose government-run health care. Which means they must truly believe that government-run health care would be better and cheaper for the public. Because if it was worse and more expensive than private health care, nobody would choose it. By admitting that everyone would choose the government over private health care, Republicans are conceding that government health care, if allowed to compete in the marketplace, would be seen as better by the public. You can't have it both ways. Either government run health care is better, or nobody would choose it."


   Nobody's getting "forced" into anything

This one really annoys me, and if given the chance, needs to be refuted strongly.

"Forced? Excuse me, did you just say 'forced'? Nothing could be further from the truth. President Obama has said himself that anyone who is happy with their health insurance will be able to do nothing, and keep it. Nobody is being forced to do anything. We want to offer a choice to people who are not happy with their health insurance. I don't know why Republicans keep saying 'forced' as if some health care policeman is going to show up at your door and confiscate your private health insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who tells you that the government is going to 'force' you to do anything is a flat-out liar."


   Michael Moore was right

Nothing frosts Republicans' cookies more than Moore. Mere mention of his name causes heads to explode on the right. And he's just written a wonderful piece on the comparisons he gets in the midst of the whole Rush Limbaugh dustup. In Michael Moore's own words (and own emphasis):

"What I have believed in, and what I have stood for in these past eight years -- an end to the war, establishing universal health care, closing Guantanamo and banning torture, making the rich pay more taxes and aggressively going after the corporate chiefs on Wall Street -- these are all things which the majority of Americans believe in too. That's why in November the majority voted for the guy I voted for. The majority of Americans rejected the ideology of Rush and embraced the same issues I have raised consistently in my movies and books."


   DNC "Send Rush a Message" contest

OK, I couldn't resist. Talking about Rush Limbaugh seems to be required of everyone this week, so here is the chance for you to come up with your own talking point this week.

The Democratic National Committee is running a contest for a slogan (10 words or less) to plaster on a billboard in Rush Limbaugh's hometown. The winner will also receive a T-shirt with their winning slogan on it. Submit your suggestions over at the DNC's site.

Or, post your thoughts in the comments below. I have no 10 word limit, but I also will not be sending you a T-shirt, even if I think yours is the best, so I guess it all works out somehow. To be fair, I am not going to write my own entry, and leave the final talking point to you, dear reader.

So, if you had the chance to (figuratively) scream something at Rush Limbaugh, what would it be?


Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


-- Chris Weigant


3 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [68] -- Obamacare Pre-Emptive Strike, And An Anti-Rush Slogan Contest”

  1. [1] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Rush: How can betting against America be patriotic?

    Whining and obstructionism is not the key to a strong economy.

    I think some form of "betting against America" is the strongest slogan to stick to the Republicans. Simple and to the point.

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    My slogan: "OUR FUTURE IS NOT A GAME."

    Seriously, though, Chris -- I think you're being too easy on Harry Reid. Where else does the buck stop? The sad fact is, he's utterly spineless, and I don't even mean that as metaphor. He's not a member of phylum chordata at all, but an alien from the planet Zxygnbkx.

    Seriously! There's a saline tank in the closet of his Senate office where he reassumes his natural form at night.

  3. [3] 
    ChicagoMolly wrote:

    There's one thing above all else that sets my teeth a-grinding about Republican health care arguments. McConnell walks this dog in your quote above: that a government plan "would take health care decisions out of doctors and patients and place them in the hands of another Washington bureaucracy." As if the for-much-profit system does leave these decisions to doctors and patients. Humbug.

    When my niece was diagnosed with scoliosis my sister and the doctor wanted to use the conservative, time-tested Milwaukee Brace treatment to reshape her spine and relieve the curvature by the time she stopped growing. This takes time, and as she grew she would have to get new braces to fit. The HMO fought them every step of the way, and for no reason other than cost. The for-much-profit HMO said it was cheaper to put my niece on the table as soon as possible, open her back and fuse a metal rod to her spine. So there. If you don't like it, you can lump it. Take it down the road and dump it. So she went into surgery. They had no choice. The decision was taken out of their hands by the for-much-profit HMO.

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