Saturday, August 29, 2009

Party Of Deception

The Huffington Post, gushing about the Kennedy memorial service in Boston last night, exclaimed that Senator Orrin Hatch (R.-Ut.)

gave a long, moving speech about his 30-year friendship with Kennedy, proclaiming that he "loved every minute." Hatch ended by reading a poem he had written about Kennedy, which concluded with "I will miss my Irish friend/God be with you 'till we meet again."

The Utah Republican may have loved his "Irish friend," but how did he deal with Senator Kennedy's signature issue, health care, during the last few months of his buddy's life?

We all know that Hatch voted against the bill approved in mid-July by chairman Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (EMK voted in favor by proxy) because every Repub voted against it. Republicans believe in independent thought, at least until Chairman Limbaugh weighs in, at which point everyone is required to fall in line.

Still, there may be principle in a low-keyed, responsible "nay" vote. Unfortunately, this was no such thing, as Hatch demonstrated when he demagogued the issue on last Sunday's Meet The Press. One example (page 4 of the transcript):

We have 300 million people in this country, 85 percent of whom have health insurance. The other, the other 15 percent, you've got six million who actually qualify from their employer but don't get it. You got 11 million people who qualify for CHIP and Medicaid. You've got another nine million people who earn over $75,000 a year, can afford their own health insurance but don't--won't do it. You've got six million people who, who are illegal aliens getting health, health insurance. When you bring it down, that 47 million people comes down to about 15 million people. So we're going to--and we all know we need insurance reform, both Democrats and Republicans, but we're going to throw out a system that works for, for 300--85 percent of 300 million people to take care of 15 million people that we could take care of with subsidies and other approaches that would be simple.

Back in late June, factcheck.org evaluated the claim by conservative former Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee that "the 45 million figure.... of uninsured is probably about twice the real number of people who can't afford insurance or don't have access to it really." It concluded that it's unlikely that half of the 45.7 million uninsured "can't afford" it or "don't have access to it really."

Further, following Hatch's appearance on Meet The Press, politifact.com rated as "half true" the Utah Senator's claim of only 15 million people. It found the calculation is based on a chart prepared by the Republican Policy Committee based on (largely accurate) 2006 data, conveniently "a year earlier than the most recent data." It "relies on a hodgepodge of different years and sources and leaves open the possibility that some people are double- or triple- counted" and concludes "it would not pass muster in an undergraduate statistics class."

Wait! We're not done with the late Edward Kennedy's close friend. On the same Sunday appearance (page 3 of transcript), Hatch argued "if you go to a government plan, both independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO, have indicated that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan." The exchange continued:

MR. GREGORY: Well, wait a minute, Senator Hatch, that's not right.

SEN. HATCH: ...will destroy the private health industry.

MR. GREGORY: The Congressional Budget Office did not say that. In fact, what they have concluded...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did say that.

MR. GREGORY: ...is that, well...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did.

MR. GREGORY: The CBO said that, in fact, those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan.

SEN. HATCH: Well, didn't I say tens of millions of people? Others have said as many as...

MR. GREGORY: Tens of millions, that's different than 10 million.

SEN. HATCH: Well, that's plenty. Others are saying up to 119 million people. It, it ranges in between. The point is, it's always more than what the government says it is.


Is the problem the lie or the cover-up? Hatch claimed

....both independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO, have indicated that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan," which "would destroy the private health industry."

Gregory noted "those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan."

Lie established- but it didn't stop there. Caught in the lie, Hatch could have said he was misinformed, "misspoke" (what does that mean anyway?), or stood corrected, and gone on to his next point. Instead, when Gregory first questioned Hatch's claim, the Senator twice denied Gregory's numbers, contending "it did say that" and "yes, it did." When the interviewer finished his point, Hatch unashamedly "doubled down" (a cliche that has become awfully trite; blame Sean Hannity, who figures if he keeps repeating a flasehood, listeners will believe it's true), stating "didn't I say millions of people?"

When Gregory replied "that's different than 10 million," Hatch responded "well, that's plenty," apparently hoping that the viewer would not notice a difference between "tens of millions" and "millions." A lie and a cover-up.

Concluding the exchange, Hatch had to fall back on "others are saying up to 19 million people." Who Senator Kennedy's friend imagines these "others" to be was not made clear, presumably because Hatch was making it up as he was going along.

A great interviewer (rather than an average one having a fairly good day) would have asked, at the end, whether Hatch wanted to revise his contention that a public option "would destroy the private health insurance industry" because he was wrong about the CBO's estimate. Given that, for the most part, the GOP's greatest concern is destruction of a private insurance industry which has been enormously helpful to it, Hatch still accomplished much of his objective. (Senator Schumer, appearing with Hatch, might have pointed out the fallaciousness of Hatch's claim; but apparently, one doesn't do that to a fellow Senator who is a friend to so many in the club.)

This is not a shot against the long-time Senator from the Mountain West. In fact, Orrin Hatch usually is considered one of the more reasonable Republicans, willing to "work across the aisle" to get legislation passed. Which is the problem: if this fellow can go on national television, trivialize the problem of uninsured Americans and lie about a projection(s) of the number of people in a public plan, what does it say about his fellow Republicans, including the three comprising the Gang of Six?

The suspicion grows: they are not fooling a gullible President Obama (and surely not Rahm Emanuel). He is playing the game he wants to play, with the team he wants to play the game with.

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