David Sirota: Obama’s a health-care enigma
Vail CO, Colorado
The most stunning news about President Obama’s press conference with health industry executives this week was his eagerness to involve those executives in a discussion about health-care reform even as they revealed their previous plans to pilfer $2 trillion from Americans.
In saying they can voluntarily slash $200 billion a year off the country’s medical bills over the next decade and still preserve their profits, health-care companies implicitly acknowledged they were plotting to fleece consumers, and have been fleecing them for years.
Chief among the profiteers at the White House event were insurance companies, which have raised premiums by 119 percent since 1999, and one obvious question is why — why would Obama engage those particular thieves?
In a 2003 speech, he declared himself “a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program” — i.e., one eliminating private insurers and their overhead costs by having government finance health care.
ABC’s 2003 poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans desiring a single-payer system “run by the government and financed by taxpayers,” just like CBS’s 2009 poll shows roughly the same percentage today.
In that speech six years ago, Obama said the only reason single-payer proponents should tolerate delay is “because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
This might explain why when Illinois contemplated a 2004 health-care proposal raising insurance lobbyists’ “fears that it would result in a single-payer system,” those lobbyists “found a sympathetic ear in Obama, who amended (read: gutted) the bill more to their liking,” according to The Boston Globe.
Maybe Obama didn’t think single payer was achievable without a Democratic Washington.
And when in a 2006 interview he told me he was “not convinced that (single payer) is the best way to achieve universal health care,” perhaps he was following the same rationale, considering his insistence that he must “take into account what is possible.”
Of course, even as a senator aiming for the “possible” in a Republican Congress, Obama promised to never “shy away from a debate about single payer.” And after the 2008 election fulfilled his single-payer precondition of Democratic dominance, it was only logical to expect him to initiate that debate.
That’s why the White House’s current posture is so puzzling.
As The Associated Press reports, Obama aides are trying to squelch any single-payer discussion, deploying their health-care point person, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to announce that “everything is on the table with the single exception of single-payer.”
So it’s back to why — why Obama’s insurance industry-coddling inconsistency? Is it a pol’s payback for campaign cash? Is it an overly cautious lawmaker’s paralysis? Is it a conciliator’s desire to appease powerful interests? Or is it something else?
For a president who spends so much time on camera answering questions, these have become the biggest unanswered questions of all.
David Sirota is the author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. Find his blog at OpenLeft.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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