The bogus and swiftly discredited (counter-swiftboated?) AHIP-commissioned study purporting to show that the Baucus bill will raise premiums was in turn a red cape to Democrats, who have gone out with gusto to paint the health insurance industry as public enemy #1. It is unlikely that AHIP is trying to prevent a reform bill from passing; they are rather trying to get what they can added in and taken out -- stiffer individual mandates, increased subsidies, no public option, no excise tax, weaker mimimum coverage standards. Give them all that, and reform is still worth doing -- insurance at least marginally worth having will still be made at least marginally affordable to most of those who now lack it. But the U.S. health care system will remain dysfunctional -- twice as expensive as that of other rich countries, riddled with coverage holes, wired for overtreatment. The battle now is about how eviscerated the final bill will be.
That is why Obama has returned to a major campaign theme: we can't reform our policies until we reform our politics. Here's how he put it on Jan. 30, 2008 in Denver:
we need to do more than turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney policies; we have to turn the page on the politics that helped make those policies possible.Compare his weekly address today:
Lobbyists setting an agenda in Washington that feeds the inequality, insecurity, and instability in our economy.
Division and distraction that keeps us from coming together to deal with challenges like health care, and clean energy, and crumbling schools year after year after year.
Cronyism that gave us Katrina instead of competent government. And secrecy that made torture permissible and illegal wiretaps possible.
It's a politics that uses 9/11 to scare up votes; and fear and falsehoods to lead us into a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and should've never been waged.
Beyond slamming the most obvious target, Obama at the close broadened the scope and raised the stakes, framing the health reform bill as a test case for the functioning of American democracy:
This [rampant health care inflation] is the unsustainable path we’re on, and it’s the path the insurers want to keep us on. In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo. They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.
Of course, like clockwork, we’ve seen folks on cable television who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We’ve seen industry insiders – and their apologists – citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren’t true. They’ll claim that premiums will go up under reform; but they know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that reforms will lower premiums in a new insurance exchange while offering consumer protections that will limit out-of-pocket costs and prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. They’ll claim that you’ll have to pay more out of pocket; but they know that this is based on a study that willfully ignores whole sections of the bill, including tax credits and cost savings that will greatly benefit middle class families. Even the authors of one of these studies have now admitted publicly that the insurance companies actually asked them to do an incomplete job.It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, "Take one of these, and call us in a decade." Well, not this time.
Obama here is not only turning the spotlight on lobbyists just as they kick into high gear -- there's also a veiled threat to expose selected targets in Congress (Democrats, since there's no Republican votes except maybe Snowe's) who try to hold the final bill hostage to various giveaways.
Last November, the American people went to the polls in historic numbers and demanded change. They wanted a change in our policies; but they also sought a change in our politics: a politics that too often has fallen prey to the lobbyists and the special interests; that has fostered division and sustained the status quo. Passing health insurance reform is a great test of this proposition. Yes, it will make a profound and positive difference in the lives of the American people. But it also now represents something more: whether or not we as a nation are capable of tackling our toughest challenges, if we can serve the national interest despite the unrelenting efforts of the special interests; if we can still do big things in America.
I believe we can. I believe we will. And I urge every member of Congress to stand against the power plays and political ploys – and to stand up on behalf the American people who sent us to Washington to do their business.
It's been said by many that Obama needs to land a punch in a major domestic policy fight. Let's see specifically what he chooses to fight for as health care reform approaches the endgame.