Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve).
Wonderful. The thirteen Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee get one faintly rational Republican to join them in a meaningless stab at healthcare reform and it throws the media into a titillated frenzy about what it all means. It means very little.
The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative.
The insurers’ leverage with the few moderate Republicans and with conservative Democrats will prevent the merging of the Baucus bill with the more serious attempts at reform in other Senate and House proposals. While President Barack Obama was celebrating Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, for being “extraordinarily diligent” in working with the Democrats, she was already proclaiming the exit strategy she will use if the bill becomes worthwhile. “My vote today is my vote today,” Snowe said Tuesday. “It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.”
The healthcare debate has become a convenient distraction, for both political parties, from the far more pressing issues surrounding the banking meltdown. As important as health insurance is as an issue, representing 16 percent of the economy, and with so many uninsured, no sane person can deny that the current system is a sorry mess that needs to be changed. But why now and not after a growth economy has returned?
The answer is that politicians from both parties just love the healthcare game because it allows them to assume reflexive but irrelevant postures in that tired old debate about “socialized medicine” versus “free-market choice” although it has nothing to do with either ideological fantasy. Consumers do not have meaningful choices as it is–many have no coverage and others are frozen into some company-sponsored plan–and it is insulting to the social democracies of Western Europe to suggest that anything comparable is even under consideration in the U.S. Congress.