Health Care “reform”: My response to Obama (from 3 years ago)

NB: I wrote this quickly on March 22, 2010, after reading Obama’s speech. The ACA had just been passed. I couldn’t listen to his speech the previous night. I think I made it to the third paragraph of his speech before I grabbed my “comfort book” (Epictetus, thank you) and went upstairs to read in dim light.

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

This sounds so good, President Obama.
Does this mean that I can get affordable health insurance for some pre-existing
conditions now?

No? Okay, so I guess I can just keep on dealing with these awful migraines because I can’t afford the $500.00 a month it would cost to get a preventative medication that might work. I won’t find out, because, you know, I have to feed my family first. That’s cool, I understand.

Call this me taking one for the American people. Every time I vomit water or plain bile because I’ve been unable to keep food down for more than 24-hours due to a mere migraine, I’ll just think of it as my sacrifice for the Good of the Country.

So, God forbid (you do invoke Him several times) I get sick, my husband and my daughter would be left without me, or we’d be bankrupt, or…?

That’s so comforting.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.
Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I must disagree, politely but vehemently, with any sort of claim that “we” have “proved” that the “government…still works for the people.”

The government works for some of the people. Hurray for some!

And kudos for us to returning to the failed ways of Ancient Greek oligarchies—this bill has proven more than anything that we are ruled by corporations.
All right, though, I will grant that the Supreme Court recently did rule that corporations are people, too.

Maybe I will change my name and incorporate myself. I could start as an S-corp, sell some stock, and let my investors decide what I should do with my life. That does seem to be one way for me to “get ahead” in America, at this date and time.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

To those of you who struggled with voting yes, go fuck yourselves. Yes, seriously. You have health insurance. Many of us don’t.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we lack health insurance because we don’t want it?

So if you found doing the RIGHT thing was hard, then maybe you should retire from any sort of public life until you’ve gotten in touch with yourself and let go of some of your financial obligations.

And you should also read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—it’s mild, but it’ll remind you (maybe) of what we need. Of what true courage and conviction is.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

I have never felt like more of a failure with my activism work than when I read this paragraph. I haven’t been heard, that’s clear. I’ve been working for single-payer for years. No, I haven’t been heard. And hundreds of others I’ve encountered during my activism haven’t been heard, either.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

The only victory I see is that maybe, maybe Rush Limbaugh MIGHT leave the country. [And that didn’t happen, dammit.] But has he not said this sort of crap before and stayed? And honestly, even if he did leave, he’d still go on with his show.

There is no victory, Mr. President and members of Congress. This, if anything, is a time to mourn your failures.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and
losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people. <

I don’t give a shit about the frenzied analysis. I want change. I want it NOW. I’m sick and tired of living in fear, Mr. President and members of
Congress. What do I fear? I hate that I live in the shadow of a migraine that will inevitably strike me. I hate that I live in fear of falling down the stairs. How could I pay for a broken bone, never mind something more “serious?”

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

25994_10100187621531793_2478648_tI am so distrustful of the health insurance industry, and I have total faith that they will find a way to continue to make obscene profit off of sickness.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

Wow, great. Our country can pay billions of dollars a day to go to other countries to kill other people, but I have to pay for the basic human right to, you know, live?

Thanks.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the
right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Anyone else alarmed that extending the life of Medicare by a decade is progress? What the f, people?

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

I cannot argue that this isn’t change. I certainly won’t argue with the first line there, that this isn’t radical reform. It’s not.

Our healthcare situation, as it stands now, is hemorrhaging. And the doctors, the government, have decided a band-aid will do the trick. And I’m not talking decent-sized or even normal band-aids. I’m talking about one of those silly round band-aids that doctors will sometimes put on you after taking blood.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

I’ll wait and see what the outcome is, Mr. President. I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some sort of health insurance then.

Eliminate the debt ceiling

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman ...

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Raising the debt ceiling gives the government the ability to pay its existing bills. It doesn’t create new deficits. It doesn’t create new spending.” ~ Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman

Once again, the full faith and credit of the United States was brought to the brink of default by political posturing. This most recent debacle has Americans assigning the majority of the blame to the GOP, and most especially to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is more concerned with self-promotion than doing what is in the country’s best interest. He is now one of the most unpopular men in the Congress, not to mention in the country, except for a small contingent of right-wing zealots bent on destroying American government. These folks think Cruz is just dandy. He is their hero.

This month’s showdown is guaranteed a replay after the holidays. The political theatre we witnessed over the past month will no doubt take center stage again. The same battles will be fought and the country’s financial stability will be further jeopardized.  In addition to the debt ceiling circus, the 16-day government shutdown left 800,000 federal workers furloughed, resulting in lost wages and decreased purchasing power, further hindering already tepid economic growth. The cost of the shutdown by some estimates is as high as $24 billion.

Conservatives, especially Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, were adamant about using the debt ceiling issue to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. Neither the President nor the Democrats were going to allow that to happen, nor should they. When this attempt failed, conservatives tried other bargaining chips. Congressmen Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) even said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Seriously? How old is he? That statement alone reveals how uninformed and incompetent some are in the House.

The long-term debt is a concern. It has risen significantly over the years, but paying our debts should never be used as a bargaining tool. Congress should instead work during their legislative sessions to determine the country’s budget priorities—how we raise revenue and cut spending. And yes, we must do both. We cannot only raise taxes nor can we only cut spending. Congress holds the power of the purse. It is their job to set the budget. It is irresponsible to repeatedly push America toward default just so a minority party can get its way. Moody’s put the US on credit ratings watch in 2011 because of such a stunt, while S&P actually did downgrade the rating from AAA to AA+. One would think that these supposed “free marketers” would understand that uncertainty is no friend to the economy, domestic or global.

Most Americans, even some legislators, do not understand the difference between the national debt and the budget deficit. Here is a good resource if interested. Raising the debt ceiling does not open the floodgates to new spending, it merely allows the U.S. government to pay the bills Congress has already approved. This is why the rating agencies have threatened, and a couple have, to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, which would have dire consequences for our country’s borrowing capability.  China has even suggested replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and who can blame them when they witness our governmental dysfunction?

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” Do Ted Cruz and his Tea Party buddies not realize this? They prefer to ignore it while wrapping themselves in the flag and the Constitution, claiming they are the only “real” Americans. As Norm Ornstein writes of this situation: “To begin, this is entirely an engineered crisis perpetrated by House Republicans with Senate allies, hatched, as we now know, by outside individuals and groups including Ed Meese, Heritage Action, and the Koch brothers. We know that John Boehner really did not want a shutdown, and that he had agreed to a clean continuing resolution after Senate Democrats capitulated in entirety to his party’s demands on appropriations—meaning a continuation of the sequester and the much lower overall spending numbers of the Ryan budget (including higher spending for defense.)”

In light of all this, some have suggested eliminating the debt ceiling. The United States government’s ability to pay its bills should never be held hostage by self-serving politicians bent on manufacturing a debt crisis in order to achieve their ideological goals. And yes, Democrats have voted against raising the debt ceiling too—even President Obama when he was a senator. However, in the past, whether from Democrats or Republicans, these votes were mostly taken by a few to show opposition without an actual threat of government default.

Below are several articles advocating for debt ceiling elimination. The PDF of Congressional Research Service’s report on The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases can be downloaded here. It’s not the most riveting material, but it does provide important information about the federal debt.

Related articles:

No, Congress is not exempting themselves from Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act began enrollment on October 1. The site has had many hits, more than anticipated. However, as was expected, there have been glitches in the system—some not so small. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog offers an explanation of why these technical glitches are occurring and what is being done to resolve them. We shall see in the coming months how it all plays out as the kinks get worked out.

These glitches, however, serve as easy ammunition for opponents of the law looking to kill it. Another weapon being used to derail the law and raise the ire of Americans is the claim, mostly in conservative media, that the President and Congress are exempting themselves from Obamacare. This is a falsehood that has been fact checked. But as one knows, if a claim is repeated enough times people will believe it.

This Factcheck.org piece explains all of this exemption brouhaha quite well. I guess it all comes down to who you trust.

Friends referred to me these two articles:

These articles refute the above pieces:

I’ve also heard the claim that somehow these government employees are not contributing to the cost of their healthcare plans at all. That is false. Per Wikipedia:

“Premiums vary from plan to plan and are paid in part by the employer (the U. S. government agency that the employee works for or, for annuitants, OPM) and the remainder by the employee. The employer pays an amount up to 72 percent of the average plan premium for self-only or family coverage (not to exceed 75 percent of the premium for the selected plan), and the employee pays the rest.”

Now, one can make the argument that perhaps they should contribute more to their own coverage; that is legitimate. However, to state they don’t contribute at all is incorrect because they do.

This information can also be found directly from the OPM website. See their latest statement regarding this issue below.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule on Aug. 7 explaining that members of Congress and applicable congressional staff will be required to purchase health insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the law. However, according to the proposed rule, the federal government, as the employer, will still be able to make a contribution to health insurance premiums as it currently does. The contribution will be no greater than that now offered to members and their staffs under the FEHB program, and members and their staffs will not be eligible for premium tax credits made available to other persons purchasing health insurance through the exchanges.

To Syria, or not to Syria? That is the question…

As I watch with detached interest over the extended hand-wringing over what to do about Syria, I can’t help but think of Kosovo.

Just a little less than 11 years ago, I ended up in Kosovo through a string of rather odd events. Without going into boring detail, suffice it to say one day I was living in relative comfort in Germany, and the next I was scurrying out in sub-zero temperature in the wee hours the morning to … well, wee.

For those unfamiliar with the Kosovo War, here’s a little background information. This will give you a lot of the political background, but what’s important to remember that we, along with our NATO allies, went into Kosovo in 1999 to intervene in an ongoing civil war (sounding familiar yet?).

By the time I got to Camp Bondsteel in late 2002, although we were ramping down our activities there (with an eye toward moving on Iraq), it didn’t appear we had done much “delivering.”  Camp Bondsteel, then referred to as the biggest city in Kosovo, was run completely on oil generators. That’s because – more than four years after victory had been declared – the Kosovars got no more than four hours of electricity a day. No one knew when those four hours would come, of if they would come in one big chunk or in smaller chunks of anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. This made it extremely difficult to live anything resembling a normal life, or at least what we know as normal. Legend had it that some contractor had been paid several million dollars to stand back up the electrical grid but the money had long since vanished with no functioning grid to replace it and it appeared no one was making a great effort to locate either.

And so, the Kosovars went about their daily business, hurriedly cooking dinner and doing other electric-centric activities whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Yes, some Kosovars, no doubt, had gas or oil generators as well, but as the U.S. Army was the largest employer in the area, the number of folks who could afford fuel were few in number. You see, the U.S. and U.N hired no Serbians (for obvious reasons), and at least KBR only hired one person per family/household. There were relatively few established businesses left; because of roads were in such bad repair and the weather so dismal, the largest cottage industry was the pressure washer car wash. It was nothing to see cars abandoned alongside the road; the locals would drive their cars until they ran out of gas, then return when they came up with enough money to refuel. I don’t recall seeing anything other than desolate hoop-ties there during my six-month tour, though I do recall pulling up beside a rather interesting homemade vehicle. Years of hardship had made these people nothing if not resourceful. I purchased three beautiful area rugs by flashlight that I still have and treasure to this day. I can only say luck was on my side.

I don’t necessarily get into the politics of these types of things, because I find the people far more interesting. However, even as not-much-of-a-student-of-history, even I can see the pattern Kosovo represents: with the exception of the Allied areas of Europe, pretty much every country we’ve gone in to “deliver” we’ve left them in the same or worse shape than we found them: Vietnam, the Philippines, Iraq, Somalia, Grenada, Afghanistan… you name it. So now we want to go into Syria to do … more of the same?

One could be encouraged that some members of Congress are pushing for a clear strategy, both in terms of engagement and exit. I am dubious of this, as I clearly remember the question being asked “How much will reconstruction in Iraq cost?” and the answer being “Nothing. They have significant oil reserves to fund their own reconstruction.”  And how many billions of dollars later is it still a barren wasteland, with untold volumes of antiquities lost for the ages (in some looters’ basements and vaults, no doubt)?

There is a part of me that tells me something must be done to help these people. However, I’m not at all convinced we are the ones to do it. Staring down the barrel of a 25% Reduction in Force in the Department of Defense over the next four years, and seeing what a war-weary force we have after a decade of war that yielded – at best – a net of zero, I can’t help but think that we may need to sit this one out. Let someone else handle it. Maybe this time we need to think about saving ourselves first. This might well be the first time in history when we aren’t in a position to help, or simply the first time we realize it. Either way, I hope our leadership will take a look a long look at history before making a final decision, or they we will be destined to repeat it.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is an unclassified aerial photo of Camp Bondsteel, the largest city in Kosovo. Think about it.

Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

Next week: Memories of the People of Kosovo