The Sickening Influence of Campaign
by Joe Conason
www.truthdig.com/, June 24, 2009
If Congress fails to enact health care
reform this year-or if it enacts a sham reform designed to bail
out corporate medicine while excluding the "public option"-then
the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for
failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment
inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in
both the Senate and the House of Representatives-or even the restoration
of Republican rule on Capitol Hill.
Many of those now talking down President
Obama's health care initiative were in Washington back in 1994
when Bill Clinton's proposals to achieve universal coverage were
killed by members of the president's own party. The Democrats
lost control of Congress that November in a historic repudiation,
largely because of public disillusionment with their policy failures.
Nearly every poll now shows the American
people demanding change in the health care system, with majorities
favoring universal coverage and, in many surveys, a government
plan that competes with private insurance. But powerful Democratic
politicians, especially in the Senate, are pretending not to hear.
They adopt all sorts of positions, from bluntly opposing any substantive
change this year to promoting bogus alternatives. They claim to
be trying to help Obama gather the votes he will need, or to assist
him in attracting Republican votes. They insist that the country
can't afford universal care, or that the public option won't pass
(before debate has even begun).
Indeed, many of the most intransigent
Democrats don't bother to make actual arguments to support their
position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and
the party's main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public
option and universal coverage.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply
stated, through her flack, that she refuses to support a public
option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan
that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is
a step toward single-payer health care-not much of an objection
to a model that serves people in every other industrialized country
with lower costs and superior outcomes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., feebly protests that her state's mismanagement by a
Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the
country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving
regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete
with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants.
The excuses sound different, but all of
these lawmakers have something in common-namely, their abject
dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical
corporations fighting against real reform. Consider Landrieu,
a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents
badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on
Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center
for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has
received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests,
including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug
firms, during her political career.
The same kind of depressing figures can
be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now
posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus,
D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has
distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard,
a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received
more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors
than any other member of Congress. "In the past six years,"
the Standard found, "nearly one-fourth of every dime raised
by the Montana senator and his political-action committee has
come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies,
insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies
and other health professionals."
Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted
with this conflict between the public interest and their private
fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult. They protest,
as a spokesman for Sen. Landrieu did, that they make policy decisions
based on what is best for the people of their states, "not
campaign contributions." But when health reform fails, or
turns into a trough for their contributors, who will believe them?
And who will vote for them?
Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer