Health Care Hold’em

Pot-committed. When you have bet so many of your remaining chips that you feel you must stay with a hand even when you know the odds are against you. This is a very real predicament in the world of high stakes poker, and it is where Senate Democrats and the President feel that they are with the reform bill.

But are they really? They have committed time and energy to this effort, but they have not staked out a real position in a political sense. Most of the members of the House who voted for the bill are safe for reelection, and the Senate hasn’t really done enough on the bill to be pinned down. Most of the country tells pollsters that they like the individual elements of the bills presented, even while they tell the same pollsters that they don’t like the brand the insurance companies have successfully slapped on the package. Despite this, enough senators have stepped forward to say that they won’t let the bill come to a vote without the good stuff being removed. As a result, the good stuff is gone. So why vote for it when it is not a good bill?

This legislation is a classic example of the “strawman” argument. The idea is to construct a “strawman” in place of the actual target, tear him to pieces, then declare victory. The insurance lobby has spent almost a half of a billion on advertising, rallies, and direct contributions to build, brand, and destroy their “strawman”. For that money, they have received senators and representatives, commentators and writers, willing to lie about the issue. Think about what people are mad at:

  1. A government take-over with a single payer system…not in the bill
  2. An expansion of entitlements through Medicare and the public option…not true since both would be premium buy-in options
  3. Rationing and death-panels…not only not true, but a better description of what health insurance companies are doing right now to your friends, neighbors, or loved ones
  4. A massive debt explosion…CBO projections for the House bill and both versions in the Senate have shown them to be deficit reducers

It doesn’t matter anymore, because the ploy worked. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, two senators that have taken millions from the insurance lobby, have made excuse after excuse for not supporting a vote on the bill. Nobody asked them to vote for the bill, just to let a vote on the bill happen. Remember, our Constitution (our Founders) provided for majority rule. These two gentleman are the primary reasons that this bill is the worthless heap of dung that it has become.

It appears that some bill will pass anyway. Folks like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have said they will vote even though much of the meaningful reform has been stripped away. The cost controlling elements in the bill, elements that would have used market processes rather than laws to keep prices down, are gone. The regulations still in the bill are as easy to bypass as any other rules that corporations get by every day. With all of the important pieces removed, all that is left is a mandate for all Americans to have coverage. The mandate was originally inserted as much for compromise with the insurance industry as for any real reform purpose.

The bill that is left is a victory for the industry that is crippling the United States. Make no mistake about this fact, and let no fake rally or commentator dissuade you; the delivery of health care in this country will bankrupt us. The very people who are most fearful of a financial destruction of America are the ones who can’t see that destruction’s real architect. This column has pointed out many times the critical facts of American health care; the best people working in the worst system in the world. Period. Fully 16% of our economy is devoted to a health care construct that is far from world-class. For the last 12 months, the consumer price index has been negative. That is right, we have had the opposite of inflation except, of course, in two areas. Energy and health care costs found a way to climb even through the depths of recession. The big drug companies swung a deal early in the process to avoid regulation by agreeing to provide cost savings based on their 2009 rates. They have spent the last 9 months jacking up their rates. You just have to love big business and their senate enablers.

Companies in the European Union and the Asian Tigers are destroying U.S. firms and eroding opportunities for smaller U.S. enterprise because they don’t have to worry about the health of their people or its cost. Yet we in America can’t get over our belief that this delivery system is superior. We are the world’s great nation…until our lack of investment in infrastructure, education, and health care cripples our competitiveness.

Senator Harry Reid should either move to use budget reconciliation to pass the bill (a move that would require a good old American simple majority for passage), or kill it outright and start over. President Obama should stop kicking this dead horse, acknowledge defeat, and then plan on a comeback. Passing a bad bill will only prove the naysayers correct and allow them to hasten our nation’s fall.

The rational middle is listening…