Friday, December 11, 2009

Another Glitch In Health Reform

Salon's Joan Walsh was miffed. She posted "Yes, It's Obama's War Now," noting her opposition to the escalation of the war in Afghanistan President Obama announced on December 1 but explaining

First of all, it would help to admit that in this case, Obama is keeping a campaign promise, not breaking one. Most liberal Obama backers probably either disagreed with his stance on Afghanistan, or didn't take it seriously. Still, many sold him as the only progressive candidate in the race, in stark contrast with the hawkish Hillary Clinton. That was never true, and Obama proved it last year when he made Clinton his secretary of state and kept Robert Gates as defense secretary. The howls of betrayal by progressives I respect like Michael Moore, Arianna Huffington and Keith Olbermann are at least partly a measure of their own misunderstanding of Obama's candidacy. The American left needs to smarten up, and toughen up, if it wants to make deep, lasting change in this country.

I'm deeply disappointed, saddened even, but I don't feel betrayed.

After receiving numerous letters criticizing her, Walsh wrote (typed?) "The poster boy for self-delusion," singling out Tom Hayden for a "delusional Obama endorsement" in March 2008. She quoted this portion of the essay the former activist and U.S. Representative from California wrote for The Nation:

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grassroots participation, drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle-down economics or charitable billionaires. By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below….

"We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama's unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined…. We have the proven online capacity to reach millions of swing voters in the primary and general election. We can and will defend Obama against negative attacks from any quarter….

"We take very seriously the argument that Americans should elect a first woman President, and we abhor the surfacing of sexism in this supposedly post-feminist era. But none of us would vote for Condoleezza Rice as either the first woman or first African-American President. We regret that the choice divides so many progressive friends and allies, but believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a Clinton presidency all over again, not a triumph of feminism but a restoration of the aging, power-driven Wall Street Democratic hawks at a moment when so much more fresh imagination is possible and needed. A Clinton victory could only be achieved by the dashing of hope among millions of young people on whom a better future depends. The style of the Clintons' attacks on Obama, which are likely to escalate as her chances of winning decline, already risks losing too many Democratic and independent voters in November. We believe that the Hillary Clinton of 1968 would be an Obama volunteer today, just as she once marched in the snows of New Hampshire for Eugene McCarthy against the Democratic establishment."

Although prompted by Obama's Afghanistan plans, Walsh in her original, December 1, essay cited a few examples of the President's centrism, including "his tepid backing of a healthcare reform public option."

We now have another example of the failure of this President to take advantage of a solid Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, a veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, and the mandate for change we were led to believe by the Obama campaign and the media his election provided. The Hill found yesterday that

A deal between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry is holding up a bipartisan amendment to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from abroad, according to a member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

The Senate has been debating the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), since Tuesday but has not held a vote, which is contributing to a stall in the floor action on healthcare reform.

Dorgan’s measure, which would permit bulk exports of medicines from countries such as Canada, enjoys broad and bipartisan support and likely has the backing of more than 60 senators, which would guarantee its adoption on the healthcare reform bill.

Tension between the White House and Democratic supporters of the so-called drug reimportation amendment is primarily behind the delay, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday.

“There’s a political subtext here,” Durbin said. “It has to do with whether or not we can do it as part of the impact on pharma in this bill and whether or not there are other things that are higher priorities.”

The White House and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) struck a deal this summer to limit the drug industry’s financial exposure under reform to $80 billion over 10 years, though its terms have never been fully disclosed.

Unfortunately, a "poison pill" amendment has been introduced by an otherwise reliably progressive Senator from a state home to powerful pharmaceutical companies. The article continues:

The Dorgan amendment is co-sponsored by 19 senators, including Snowe and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have been leading the floor debate. On Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Lautenberg had offered an alternative to the Dorgan amendment; both amendments will come to a vote at the same time, Reid said.

Alleging "significant safety concerns," the Obama appointee who heads the Food and Drug Administration has slammed Dorgan's amendment and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs similarly rationalized the position of his boss, who as Senator, was one of 35 co-sponsors of Dorgan's reimportation amendment. He rationalized

The president said during the campaign that he did. [He] said so in his first budget, assuming that safety concerns … could be addressed. And I think that’s the key.

What could be the reason behind Mr. Obama's declining enthusiasm for reducing the price of prescription drugs? It could be something as simple as maintaining the support of the pharmaceutical industry (now feverishly raising prices) the President bought with his deal with big Pharma. Or it could be that Senator Obama was supporting drug re-importation merely because he represented a relatively liberal state and contemplating pursuing the presidential nomination via a nomination process dominated by liberals/progressives. In either case, as a co-sponsor of Dorgan's amendment, Arizona Senator John McCain, put it, "the fix is in." Finally, from John McCain: a little 'straight talk.'

Next: Limbaugh understands this issue! And of course supports the drug industry!

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