Don’t like the way the Wall Street bail-out turned out? It looks as if we’re in for something similar regarding healthcare.
With popular fury at the status quo rising and hunger for a real, public option attracting over 70 percent approval in polls, the White House is urging public-option advocates to hush.
According to the Washington Post, in a pre-holiday call with half a dozen top House and Senate Democrats, Obama asked health care advocates to ratchet back their pressure for a public option. He’s apparently concerned about advertisements and on-line campaigns targeting foot-dragging Democrats.
We’ve been here before. Back in the fall and spring, when popular fury at private bankers was soaring, Washington urged liberal lobbying groups to focus more on backing the White House plan and less on attacking bankers and banks.
What happened? Washington allowed Wall Street insiders, many of whom had overseen the breaking apart of the economy, to manage the so called recovery, putting most of what was rotten back in place. The re-distributions of wealth to the top continued, while civilian unemployment headed through the roof.
As Barney Frank told bankers back in February, "People really hate you, and they’re starting to hate us because we’re hanging out with you."
The health care debate is suffering from the same dynamic.
Specifically, on July 4, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations will rally support for "advancing legislation" that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage. But the words public option were left out.
Pro-reform activists are pushing a public plan because it’s popular, it’s doable — and it’s at least a step closer to the only thing most actually think will work — which is a totally public system.
Why are they pushing so hard? Well, consider what they’re up against. Pulling against anything remotely public, is the biggest lobbying blitz Washington’s ever seen. The Washington Post reports that private insurers, drug companies and their representatives spent more than $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year. That’s over $1.4 million a day.
And they’ve hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress to do all that lobbying work.
When Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sat down with health-care lobbyists on June 10, two were his former chiefs of staff. Their aim: to minimize the "damage" in profits to insurers, hospitals and drug makers from any change in approach from government. Specifically, they oppose any even remotely public option, the details of which are right now up for debate.
Want to hush the activists? The real scandal, it seems to me, shouldn’t be the thousands of dollars that on-line organizers are spending on advertising to the public and Congress. The real scandal should be the millions that private insurers and pharmaceutical firms are spending infiltrating the government.
If the public option lobbyists had the access Big Pharma’s got, they might not need to buy all those ads. Besides — $1.4 million a day. Imagine what real-life nurses could do with that!
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv, which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on Twitter.com.