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The Conspiracy Against Americans on Health Care

Friday, December 18 2009 @ 07:05 AM CST

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Joe Lieberman : the Health Insurance Company Puppet : The Senator fromTel Aviv

Are Republicans Serious About Fixing Health Care?

No, and here\'s the proof.

By Jacob Weisberg

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate finance committee, has emerged as one of the harshest critics of what the right likes to call \"Obamacare.\" After spending the first half of the year working with Democrats to find a bipartisan compromise, Grassley has spent the second half trying to prevent one. He attacks the bill now being debated on the Senate floor as an indefensible new entitlement. He complains that it expands the deficit, threatens Medicare, and does too little to restrain health care inflation. At a town hall meeting in August, the 76-year-old Iowan played the age card. \"There is some fear, because in the House bill, there is counseling for end of life. And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear,\" he told an audience in John Wayne\'s hometown of Winterset.

One might credit the sincerity, if not the validity, of such concerns were it not for an inconvenient bit of history. Not so long ago, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Grassley was the chief architect of a bill that actually did most of the bad things he now accuses the Democrats of wanting. As chairman of the finance committee, Grassley championed the legislation that created a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare. The contrast between what he and his colleagues said during that debate in 2003 and what they\'re saying in 2009 exposes the disingenuousness of their current complaints.

Today the Medicare prescription-drug debate is remembered mainly for the political shenanigans Republicans used to get their bill through. Bush officials lied about the numbers and threatened to fire Medicare\'s chief actuary if he shared honest cost estimates with Congress. House Republicans cut off C-SPAN and kept the roll call open for three hours—as opposed to the requisite 15 minutes—while cajoling the last few votes they needed for passage. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay was admonished by the House ethics committee for winning the eleventh-hour support of Nick Smith, a Michigan Republican, by threatening to vaporize Smith\'s son in an upcoming election. It\'s worth remembering these moments when Republicans criticize Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid for his hardball tactics.

The real significance of that episode, however, is not their bad manners, but what Republicans ordered the last time health care was on the menu. Their bill, which stands as the biggest expansion of government\'s role in health care since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, created an entitlement for seniors to purchase low-cost drug coverage. Grassleycare, also known as Medicare Part D, employs a complicated structure of deductibles, co-pays, and coverage limits. Thanks to something called the \"doughnut hole,\" drug coverage disappears when out-of-pocket costs reach $2,400, returning only when they hit $3,850. Simply stated, the bill cost a fortune, wasn\'t paid for, is complicated as hell, and doesn\'t do all that much—though it does include coverage for end-of life-counseling, or what Grassley now calls \"pulling the plug on grandma.\"

In their 2009 report to Congress, the Medicare trustees estimate the 10-year cost of Medicare D as high as $1.2 trillion. That figure—just for prescription-drug coverage that people over 65 still have to pay a lot of money for—dwarfs the $848 billion cost of the Senate bill. The Medicare D price tag continues to escalate because the bill explicitly bars the government from using its market power to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers or establishing a formulary with approved medications.

And unlike the Democratic bills, which won\'t add to the deficit, the bill George W. Bush signed was financed entirely through deficit spending. While Grassley and his colleagues accuse Democrats of harming Medicare through cost cuts, it is their bill that has done the most to hasten Medicare\'s coming insolvency. Between now and 2083, Medicare D\'s unfunded obligations amount to $7.2 trillion according to the trustees. Numbers like these prompted former Comptroller General David M. Walker to call it \"... probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s.\"

Grassley is not alone in his incoherence. Of 28 current Republican senators who were in the Senate back in 2003, 24 voted for the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Of 122 Republicans still in the House, 108 voted for it. There is not space here to fully review this hall of shame, which includes Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, among many others. Here is Kansas Republican Sam Brownback in 2003: \"The passage of the Medicare bill fulfills a promise that we made to my parents\' generation and keeps a promise to my kids\' generation.\" Here is Brownback in 2009: \"This hugely expensive bill will not lower costs and will not cover all uninsured.\" Here is Jon Kyl of Arizona: \"As a member of the bipartisan team that crafted the Part D legislation, I am committed to ensuring its successful implementation. I will fight attempts to erode Part D coverage.\"* Kyl now calls Harry Reid\'s legislation: \"a trillion-dollar bill that raises premiums, increases taxes, and raids Medicare.\"

The explanation for this vast collective flip-flop is—have you guessed?—politics. Medicare recipients are much more likely to vote Republican than the uninsured who would benefit most from the Democratic bills. In 2003, Karl Rove was pushing the traditional liberal tactic of solidifying senior support with a big new federal benefit, don\'t worry about how to pay for it. Today, GOP incumbents are more worried about fending off primary challenges from the right, like the one Grassley may face in 2010, or being called traitors by Rush Limbaugh. But what happened the last time they were in charge gives the lie to their claim that they object to expanding government. They only object to expanding government in a way that doesn\'t help them get re-elected.



Joe Lieberman and the Health Care Train Wreck

by: William Rivers Pitt

When last we heard from Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, he was throwing sand into the gears of the Democratic push for health care reform by declaring he would filibuster any legislation containing the so-called public option.\"I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement,\" said the senator back in November.\"The government going into the health insurance business - I think it\'s such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote.\"

This pronouncement came at the same time as word got out that Lieberman was also planning to actively campaign for GOP candidates during the 2010 midterms, further undercutting his erstwhile party\'s hold on the majority in Congress.\"There\'s a hard core of partisan, passionate, hardcore Republicans,\" he said at the time. \"There\'s a hard core of partisan Democrats on the other side. And in between is the larger group, which is people who really want to see the right thing done, or want something good done for this country and them - and that means, sometimes, the better choice is somebody who\'s not a Democrat.\"

For some reason, these twin insults did not motivate the Democratic Congressional leadership to expunge this hypocritical cretin from their ranks. Lieberman kept his committee chairmanship and was not even mildly censured by his colleagues. One month later, the decision to ignore his brazen disregard for his colleagues has come back to bite us all, for Mr. Lieberman has once again elbowed his way into the center of the health reform debate, and with a vengeance. \"Mr. Lieberman threatened on national television to join the Republicans in blocking the health care bill, President Obama\'s chief domestic initiative,\" reported The New York Times on Tuesday. \"Within hours, he was in a meeting at the Capitol with top White House officials. And on Monday night, Democratic senators emerged from a tense 90-minute closed-door session and suggested that they were on the verge of bowing to Mr. Lieberman\'s main demands: that they scrap a plan to let people buy into Medicare beginning at age 55, and scotch even a fallback version of a new government-run health insurance plan, or public option.\"

This turn of events is sickening and appalling on a couple of different levels.

First, of course, is the shameless reality that is Mr. Lieberman himself. During his 2004 presidential run, and again during his 2006 Senate campaign, Lieberman actively supported the public option\'s inclusion in any health care reform, and specifically supported the expansion of Medicare. As late as this past September, Lieberman continued to support such an expansion, as reported by The Connecticut Post. \"As to how 47 million uninsured will afford coverage,\" said The Post, \"Lieberman said only 12 million don\'t have insurance because they cannot afford it. By allowing citizens who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid to buy in for a rate below the private market, the government can extend coverage to more of those who are currently uninsured, he said.\"

That was then, and this is now. In one of the most astounding examples of political flip-floppery, Lieberman opened this week by declaring himself dead-set against the very health care reform policies he once championed, and once again announced his intention to don a Republican cloak and tear up the Democrats\' legislative efforts. Again.

Why? One would have to be deep into a severe state of personal denial to believe Lieberman has legitimate concerns about the impending health care legislation, given the fact that he very recently supported the exact provisions he now wants removed or destroyed. The only sensible explanation would seem to be that Lieberman is actively needling the Democratic leadership, and has become such an obnoxious obstructionist only to keep his name in the news. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains the situation, and what it means going forward:

The key issue senate Democrats now have in dealing with Joe Lieberman isn\'t his position on the Medicare Buy-In. They need to confront the problem that Lieberman isn\'t negotiating in good faith. No surprise that Republicans are giddy with what a problem he\'s creating for Harry Reid & Co. But in my conversations with them, it\'s as clear to them as it is to anyone else that he\'s now basically mocking his Democratic colleagues by moving the goal posts every time a new agreement is struck.

This puts the Democrats in an extremely difficult, politically untenable position. Yes, they need 60 votes. But they\'re not going to be able to hang on to Lieberman\'s vote long enough to get the bill passed. That now seems unquestionably clear. People who say that the Dems should just move to reconciliation don\'t necessarily realize the difficulties involved - either procedurally or politically, in terms of losing even more Democratic votes. Personally, I\'d like to see them try it. But I don\'t know if it\'s possible.

Until a couple days ago I was close to certain a health care bill would pass. I still feel relatively confident one will simply because the Dems just don\'t have any choice but to pass one. Once it is passed, if it is, it\'s definitely time for the Democratic caucus to strip Lieberman of all the benefits he receives as a member of the Democratic caucus. But that doesn\'t accomplish anything at the moment. The only path I can see for the Dems is that they need to try to put 60 votes together with Sen. Snowe. Yes, that sounds crazy to me too. But I think she actually has a set of policy priorities that could be met. I don\'t think that\'s true with Lieberman. So further negotiating just means more game-playing.

The solution to all this, one would think, would be for the Democratic leadership in Congress to wrap Lieberman in bright red wrapping paper, slap on a bow, and ship him across the aisle to his ideological compatriots in the GOP as an early Christmas present. Strip him of his leadership position, show him the door, and publicly denounce him as nothing more than a stinking chunk of cholesterol clogging up the arteries of progress.

But no. Of course that isn\'t going to happen. Instead, Democrats appear poised to once again knuckle under to this fraud and further denude what has already become a half-a-loaf bill. According to several sources, Rahm Emmanuel and the White House are actively pressuring the Democratic leadership in Congress to give Lieberman whatever he wants in order to pass some form of health reform legislation, no matter how ragged, damaging and useless the final product may turn out to be.

The Senate won\'t vote on health care reform until next week, and the process has changed course two dozen times already, so the outcome of this latest idiot eruption is far from certain, but the writing does appear to be on the wall this time around. Joe Lieberman doesn\'t give a tinker\'s damn about the people he represents, the party that coddles him, his own positions on key issues or anything else beyond getting his mug in front of television cameras in the guise of someone who actually matters. The Obama administration is once again moonwalking away from doing the right thing on this issue, and the jellyfish pond that is Congress appears poised to do what jellyfish do: float, flop, flounder and drift with the scum in this rising tide.

In short, this whole thing is about to become a train wreck of galactic proportions. Stay tuned


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