Friday, 11 December 2009

Wanted: Thoughtful Right-Leaning Op Eds

HELP! I am losing my faith in intelligent debate! I keep reading totally brain dead opinion articles from right leaning people, who make intellectually dishonest or outright silly points that are easily debunked. I'm looking for something to read by someone that I will disagree with instinctively but that contains good arguments.

Mainly because I use so many left-leaning news sources, I seldom see good, intelligent Conservative critiques and I fear I may be missing important things.

I'm not looking for right leaning writers with articles that show conter intuitive support for a left leaning idea - I want good arguments and fact based analysis about health care, climate change, the economy, or foreign policy that will make me think.

I used to read Andrew Sullivan for this, but nowadays he's one of us. George Will, who I used to like occassionally, has so irritated me with his fact free climate denialism that I no longer trust him to present good information.

So, help me out. Who's good out there?

FYI: This post was prompted by my attempts to read Sarah Palin's most recent Op Ed. I will not link to it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Senate Deal Does NOT Eliminate the Public Option

As you may have heard by now, it looks like a deal has been reached on health care reform proposals from the US Senate. The basic shape of the deal is that the final vestige of the original public option proposed in the legislation has been removed.

But wait! All my fellow public option proponents, before you begin to decry the compromise that surrenders the thing you had been hanging your hat upon, I ask you to take a gander at what we are getting in exchange. Not all compromises are bad compromises - the question should be: did we get somethinge of value in exchange for what surrendered.

Q: So, what did we get?

A: Well, for starters, we got something called Medicare buy-in.

Q: What's that?

A: Basically it means that if you do not have or cannot afford insurance, you can purchase cover under the existing medicare program. This way you benefit from the government's negotiated rate for services, and a national not for profit plan that is administerd by the government, and is trusted and popular.

Q: But wait... That sounds a lot like... A public plan.

A: Yes, it is. In fact, it's a version of something Ted Kennedy was advocating for early on in this process - something he called "Medicare for All". It's simple, cost effective and absolutely a public option.

Q: There's a catch, right?

A: Yes. Medicare buy in is only offered to those over the age of 55 - people within 10 years of qualifying for medicare anyway.

Q: So what about the rest?

A: People under the age of 55, without insurance, can buy a range of options from the health exchange. Some of those options, according to this compromise plan, would be plans administerd by the Office of Personnel and Management. These OPM plans are very similar to what the government offers its own federal employees. It has very tight restrictions and it can't make a profit. Any organisation that wants to could create such a plan but they would have to get OPM approval and closely monitored by them.

Q: Gee. That sounds kind of... similar to a public option.

A: Yes it is, a bit. The only difference is that the day to day management would be administered by an outside company, but it's very closely government controlled in order to reduce costs.

Q: But what if they don't reduce costs?

A: Apparently, the current plan would allow for a trigger under which a directly government managed public option would be created if these plans fail to achieve their objectives. Realistically, though, the terms under which that would happen are so stringent that it is unlikely to ever take place.

Q: Hmmm....

A: Yes. It bears thinking about, doesn't it?

Q: Anything else?

A: YES! One other thing I think is nifty is the notion, rumored to now be included in the bill, that insurers on the exchange will be limited to spending at least 90% of their income on actual health care. If true, that would make me really, really happy.

There's lots more to learn, think, talk about in the days and months to come. But at the moment I am feeling cautiously optimistic that what we have done is compromise the way it SHOULD work: we've gotten something near to or equal what we traded away and in the process allowed our opponents (in this case, conservative Democrats. And Joe Lieberman) the opportunity to save face and come on board.

Whether they will or not remains to be seen. But I got hope. And, apparently, so does Howard Dean!

So glad that me and Governor Dean are back on the same side of this.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Howard Dean's Democracy for America is SO Wrong

I've been a member of the Howard Dean founded group Democracy for America for several years, and I've been consistently impressed with the force, vision and vigour that they add to the political discussion in America. I like their approach of prominently backing strong progressives around the country with a chance to take the fight to Republicans in tough districts, and I'm glad they sometimes challenge the Party establishment to stay honest by raising strategic primary challenges against Democrats who disappoint them. (See Specter, Arlen for an example of how a primary challenge can sometimes go to far - Pat Toomey - but on other occassions just bring the person more comfortably in line with the party mainstream - Joe Sestak.) This is, after all, more or less how Democracy is supposed to work.

But they are spectactularly wrong about health care reform.

I've supported DFA for years - and I've met Governor Dean several times and I think he's an outstanding leader and was exactly the right DNC Chair for the moment. No one is more fervently pro-healthcare reform than I am.

As background, DFA has been lobbying extremely hard for the public option to be included in Health Insurance reform. And well done, too.

But their fundamental position seems to me more based on macho posturing of the "we've given up enough, we want candy now" thinking rather than an honest assessment of what's good and bad in the current bill,. They are currently urging their supporters to call their Senators and demand that they not compromise any further on the public option.

This is a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE idea.

Firstly, they seem to take for granted that the bill will pass one way or another. That's just flat out not true. We're still several votes away from the majority we need to get past the filibuster.

Furthermore, an apparently pretty constructive conversation is currently happening in the Senate that isn't just focussing on "Public Option, in or out" but is actually looking at what the public option was designed to achieve and asking whether there are any other approches that could do the same thing. Some of the ideas that are being batted around strike me as not just pointless compromises, but actually substantive policy approaches in their own right. Dare I say, some of them could even be BETTER than the public option.

Consider, for example, the idea of not-for profit insurance plans administered under tight controls from the Office of Personnel and Management. This is one idea that has been floated, and it would closely replicate the way that health care is currently delivered for Federal Government employees. Although not strictly "public" in that it would not be run by the government directly, it would have all the same cost controlling power of the government run public option. Plus, and this is the bit that interests me, it's lower risk in many ways because it replicates an existing program that we know already works.

Or, what about allowing people to buy in to Medicare? What about imposing much tighter cost controls on the private sector? What about expanding the amount of subsidies available to poorer patients? All of these things are being considered - each of them might be at least as effective as the public option. 

Or, they may not. To be sure, the public option - even in its current weakened form - may be the best option we currently have for controlling costs. But the one thing that we know for certain would NOT work is the status quo. And senators who reject a compromise out of some misguided notion of "Public Option or Else" will most likely condemn Americans to decades more of a flat out failed health system, and the Democratic Party to years in the wilderness. Deservedly so, by the way. If we screw this up we don't deserve to lead.

So I'm extremely unimpressed with DFA's current strategy.

They've e-mailed me today to ask me to call my Senator, with the following call to action:

Call your Senators today and tell them where you stand:

America stands with Healthcare Heroes who fight for a public option, not Insurance Industry Senators who care more about the insurance interests who fund their campaigns than providing every American real healthcare reform.

We're done negotiating. Enough is enough. The public option in the current Senate bill is our final compromise.

I sent them this note in their contact form.
You are wrong about this. The public option, while a good idea, is not even close to the most important part of this bill. In fact, in its weakened form, it may actually be a less powerful force for health cover expansion and cost controls than many other options that are now being talked about as "alternatives" to the public option - notably Medicare Expansion, increased subsidies and stronger market regulation. You are doing our joint cause great harm here, and a "victory" for your approach could actually make life worse for many Americans, while failure that results in non-passage of the bill could literally lead to the death of thousands and set our cause and our Party back for a generation.

Please reconsider. I'm begging you.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Weekend wrap up

Just a quick post to point to the stuff I wrote about over the weekend. My stats suggst that you guys don't do a lot of reading over the weekends, but this is often when I have most time to blog. (Translation: My readers have real lives, whereas I...) So I thought I'd experiment with pointing out some of my Saturday and Sunday efforts.
  • Here's an encouraging press report on Stimulus jobs.
  • Here's a report on Obama's decision to attend the final day of the Copenhagen conference, after all.
  • Here's a reminder why health care reform would be a massive achievement for our party.
  • And finally, here's my report on the moment Barack Obama seemed ready to quit the campaign.
Happy reading!