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  Saturday Night Special: "Historic" Vote Kills Health Care Reform for Another Generation
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Saturday Night Special: "Historic" Vote Kills Health Care Reform for Another Generation

by Chris Floyd
First published in Empire Burlesque yesterday, 8 November 2009

Well, the lipsticked pig has been set loose now. It'll be skittering and squealing around the Senate floor next, under the whiphand of master swineherd (and corporate bagman extraordinaire) Harry Reid, who makes Nancy Pelosi look like Robert LaFollette.

What did you do last Saturday night? Head out for dinner and a movie? Take in a show? Hit the clubs? Get cozy on the couch with your main squeeze? Well, here's what the U.S. House of Representatives did: they passed an "historic" health care bill which will put the kibosh on any genuine, equitable, sensible health care reform for many and many a year.

Couldn't they have just had a cookout – or a key party – instead? We would've all been better off.

Of course, the House bill, bad as it is, will be mangled beyond all recognition in that elitist abattoir known as the Senate, where no doubt even the few milder-than-milquetoast ameliorations that survived the corporate bludgeoning in the House will be cast aside. But for now, this is how, in the words of Barack Obama, our Democratic solons "answered the call of history": with a bill that places an onerous financial burden and threat of punishment on those least able to bear it, while stripping millions of the most vulnerable women in society from access to completely legal medical procedures easily available to the middle-class and the rich, and delivering to the corrupt, cruel and price-gouging insurance companies "50 million new consumers, many of them subsidized by the taxpayers," in the gushing words of Nancy Pelosi, who shepherded the bill through the House – and who was responsible for stripping abortion coverage from poor women by greenlighting the single allowed amendment to the bill.

(So, we get the first woman Speaker of the House, and what happens? The House kicks poor women in the guts – literally. What next? Our first African-American president repealing the Civil Rights Act?)

But let's turn to Arthur Silber, who has a few choice words about these world-historical developments:

The lies begin with the name itself. The bill is titled: Affordable Health Care for America Act.

In fact, the bill's primary purpose has absolutely nothing to do with providing "affordable health care." The purpose is to extract as much money as possible from "ordinary" Americans – and to do so at the point of a gun (what do you think those financial penalties and even possible prison time are, if not a gun pointing directly at your head?) – and shovel it directly to already-engorged insurance companies. Americans will be forced to buy insurance, which as we all know, many of us through deeply painful personal experience, has nothing whatsoever to do with health care. And Americans will be forced to spend money for largely useless insurance – which insurance will often be entirely useless just when they need it most critically – in amounts that may devastate them and their families.

But Silber, for one, is not surprised by any of this. As he notes:

In the NY Times story about the House passage of this detestable bill, we read this utterance from the awful Steny Hoyer:

“We did what we promised the American people we would do,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader...

On this occasion, Hoyer is entirely correct.

If you listened carefully to what almost every politician said during the last election campaign – and I emphatically include what Obama and all leading Democrats said – and if you understood what they were saying, they told you over and over again that they would fuck you in an endless variety of ways, until almost every last drop of your blood and almost every dollar you possess were gone. In their infinite kindness, they won't kill you, for they hope to extract still more from you, as your life and hope slowly ebb away.

They've kept their promise. They've fucked you yet again, just as they said they would.

And they are very far from done.

Too strong? Too true. Look at this prophecy from David Swanson, written just a few days ago (also cited by Silber in this other, excellent piece):

At first the "public option" was to be a massive but less-than-universal healthcare plan that would prove so efficient and effective that over several years the public would all opt into it. It was a backdoor to a civilized system of Medicare for all. Now what's left of it? Now it's a public option for 2 percent of Americans, and in some states 0 percent, to be run by private corporations, with prices set to avoid any efficiency or competition for the wasteful health insurance companies.

Is that better than nothing? No, it's worse, because this pathetic scam of a healthcare plan is plastered like lipstick on a pig to a bailout for the health insurance corporations. (Sure, the bill contains some reforms to the insurance corporations' practices, but that's like trying to reform piranhas.) And when the healthcare crisis continues to worsen in the coming years, the blame will be placed on the nearly nonexistent public option, thus justifying making things even worse, if possible....

Now, enough House Democrats have publicly committed to voting No on any bill this bad, that it could not pass. On July 30th, 57 of them signed a letter saying that any bill without a public option based on Medicare rates would be unacceptable. And therefore, this bill would be dead, and we could go into round 2 with a stronger demand for a bill that might actually save a significant number of lives .... Sadly, these people's word is as trustworthy as the promises of a health insurance company. (And when they prove that yet again, you can forget about progressive legislation or action on any issue in the months and years to come.)

And thus it came to pass on Saturday night, exactly as Swanson foretold. The 57 public-option stalwarts folded like a concertina; almost all of the few Democrats who ended up opposing the bill were so-called Blue Dogs, who resolutely oppose any public option at all. But as Swanson noted, by this time, the only thing that mattered to most "progressives" – certainly the "serious ones," the ones who want to be "inside the tent," with liaisons with White House staffers, etc. – was passing passing any bill at all:

So-called citizens' groups, now actually taking their directives from the very people they pretend to lobby, are so obsessed with passing any sort of bill, that the content of the bill is virtually irrelevant. I say virtually, because the collective decision is that it must contain something or other that can be mislabeled a "public option." Other than that, it could sentence millions of Americans to death, and it would still be fine and dandy. And that is exactly what it does.

And why is a bill better than no bill? Why is a bill that funds absolutely useless parasites like health insurance companies at the expense of our grandchildren's unearned pay better than nothing? Why – when blocking a bill would almost guarantee a better debate in round 2 – is it more important to pass the bill and close off the opportunity for valuable reform?

Why is this bad bill better than no bill, to those who pushed it and passed it? Because, as Silber points out, a bad bill is the intended result of the whole exercise:

Given the nature of the corporatist system that now throttles every aspect of life in the U.S., that is how the system works. That's how it's set up, and that's its purpose. The fact that insurance companies will reap huge rewards on the backs of "ordinary" taxpaying Americans is not a regrettable byproduct of an allegedly good but imperfect effort at reform, or a flaw that will be fixed at some unspecified future date. And as already powerful and wealthy interests become more powerful and wealthy, the State will also increase its already massive power over all our lives still more. None of that is incidental: it's the point.

Well, the lipsticked pig has been set loose now. It'll be skittering and squealing around the Senate floor next, under the whiphand of master swineherd (and corporate bagman extraordinaire) Harry Reid, who makes Nancy Pelosi look like Robert LaFollette. Lord have mercy, we ain't seen half of how ugly this thing is gonna get.


But what should we do? Sit down on the ground and weep salt tears of despair? Silber thinks otherwise. In yet another new post (the man is cooking with gas these days) – Tribalism and the Destructive Politics of Demonization (I): The Largely Unrecognized Possibility for a New Coalition – he sets out the beginnings of a powerful, practical approach that holds out a wide promise of – dare one say it? – hope and change, in the genuine sense of those much-degraded words. I'm not going to excerpt it here, because it should be read in full. I will only urge you to repair thither forthwith, read, and consider.

Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on November 9, 2009.


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