Monday, December 14, 2009

Reform Stymied

Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left goes right to the heart of the matter, posting a YouTube video (below) of what he says "remains the most prescient statement of the primaries."

What does he mean? This excerpt from CBS' Face The Nation (transcript in PDF), on which Connecticut Senator Lieberman and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson appeared, suggests the wisdom of his reference:

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: Bob, as I was saying there's a good basic bill in here and-- and the parts of it can be supported by sixty senators, including some Republicans, but we've got to stop adding to the bill. We got to start subtracting some controversial things. I think the only way to get this done before Christmas is to bring in some Republicans who are open-minded on this like Olympia Snowe. I'll tell you if--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you have to do to do that?

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: You got to take out the Medicare buy-in. You got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the CLASS Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will in-- in future years put us further into deficit. And you got to adopt some of the cost containment provisions that will strengthen cost containment that all of us favor. If you did that, you'd have an enormous accomplishment. Thirty million Americans who can't afford insurance today would get it. Insurance companies out to be more aggressively regulated and costs would be bent down. So it’s time to get reasonable.

Joe Lieberman has now made it clear that he is against any kind of public option or near- public option at all- whether "robust," triggers, buy-in, buy-out, or increasing access to Medicare. As for Senator Nelson, he was only slightly less defiantly obstructionist:

BOB SCHIEFFER: --why do you think it's a bad idea to add this buy-in to Medicare, to let younger people buy into this program, Senator Nelson?

SENATOR BEN NELSON: Well, first of all, we don't know what the numbers are yet, Bob, and so that-- that’s-- that’s a (sic) important question.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You don't know what it's going to cost.

SENATOR BEN NELSON: We don't know what it's going to cost. The second thing is I'm concerned that it's-- it’s the forerunner of single-payer, the ultimate singer single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option.

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall (12/13/09) comments:

What's most telling about Lieberman isn't his positions, which are not that much different from Sen. Nelson's and perhaps Sen. Lincoln's. It's more that he seems to keep upping the ante just when the rest of the caucus thinks they've got a deal.

If it happened once, a misunderstanding might be a credible explanation. But it's happened too many times. Sen. Nelson has driven Dems to distraction on this bill. But his demands have been fairly consistent over time. Lieberman just doesn't seem to be negotiating in good faith. He keeps pulling his caucus to some new compromise, waiting a few days and then saying he can't agree to that either.

Senator Lieberman's opposition to health care reform should come as no surprise. On October 29, Joe Conason explained in that

Hadassah Lieberman's employment as a "senior counselor" to Hill & Knowlton, one of the world’s biggest lobbying firms, briefly erupted as an issue, especially because the clients she served were in the controversial pharmaceutical and insurance sectors. Exactly what she did for those clients has never been disclosed.

At the time she joined the public relations and lobbying conglomerate in the spring of 2005, she expressed the touching hope that she would somehow be able to help those in need. "I have had a lifelong commitment to helping people gain better healthcare," she said in a press release. "I am excited about the opportunity to work with the talented team at Hill & Knowlton to counsel a terrific stable of clients toward that same goal." Less than a year later, having pocketed $77,000 in salary, she quit without explanation -- just as her husband was facing a tough primary that he would eventually lose. Throughout the campaign, Hadassah Lieberman, her husband and their spokespersons explicitly refused to discuss her professional activities, except to note that she had not been required to register as a lobbyist.

But her stint at Hill & Knowlton was merely one episode in a professional lifetime devoted to the corporate health sector. For most of the past three decades, Hadassah Lieberman has been employed by either pharmaceutical companies or the lobbying firms that represent them -- starting with nearly a decade in the "public affairs department" at Hoffman-LaRoche from 1972-81, followed by stints at Pfizer, where she spent four years as "director of policy, planning and communications," and APCO Associates, a major lobbying firm where she served as a "senior associate" in its large healthcare division before retiring in 1998.

She went back to work when she joined H&K, an outfit that became notorious for its billion-dollar defense of the tobacco industry. Not long after her contract began, Sen. Lieberman introduced legislation vastly extending patent protection for pharmaceutical companies -- notably including GlaxoSmithKline, a top client of his wife's firm.

A few days earlier, J. Taylor Rushing had noted in The Hill

Connecticut has the highest U.S. concentration of insurance jobs, with the industry accounting for about 64,000 jobs as of June 2009, according to the state’s labor department. That’s down 23 percent from the 83,000 jobs in 1990, although the state projects a slow growth of 4 percent through 2014. The state is home to 72 insurance headquarters, with three times the U.S. average of insurance jobs as a percent of total state employment.

The Lieberman family's direct conflict of interest because of its ties with the insurance industry appears to have ended in 1995 and although the Senator has collected nearly half a million dollars from the industry, he has not been the Senate's greatest beneficiary of its largesse. Still, it's hard to escape the conclusion that due to campaign funding and Hadassah's prior employment, Senator Lieberman believes he owes a debt of gratitude to the industry which dominates his home state.

Which brings us, finally, to the posted video, in which Hillary Clinton (who for reasons of her own went on to become President Obama's Secretary of State)in a campaign appearance in Rhode Island mocks the Illinois Senator:

Let's just get everybody together.
Let's get unified.
The sky will open.
The light will come down.
Celestial choirs will be singing
and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.
Maybe I've just lived a little long but I have no illusions about how hard it's going to be.
You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

Barack Obama has waved his magic wand but Joe Lieberman and the special interests have not disappeared. Unless.... there was never any desire for the special intests to disappear, or be defeated, or even challenged. Unless-unless President Chief of Staff Emanuel was pushing triggers from the start.

It's increasingly difficult to determine whether this Administration ever was eager to achieve meaningful health care reform- and is extremely incompetent- or was pulling a fast one on the American left and center, which supports change, from the beginning. Clearly, though, President Obama has been unable, or unwilling, to turn "Si se puede" from a campaign slogan into a governing accomplishment.

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