December 16th, 2009

Health Care Bill: Moldy Bread Isn’t Half a Loaf, and It Sure As Hell Isn’t Penicillin (Now With Howard Dean-Powered Update)

by Philip Baruth

Probably as good a time as any to lay VDB’s cards on the table, as regards the much-discussed health care bill currently shaping up in the Senate. At last report, Joe Lieberman had helped craft a bill almost entirely in his own image: a solid smooch on the backsides of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Public Option? No. Public Option opt-out? No. Medicare buy-in? No. Mandated insurance coverage for every man, woman, and child in the US, with penalties for non-compliance? Absolutely, friends.

In short, far from being an imperfect start that can be fixed on the way to affordable universal coverage, this is an imperfect start on the insurance industry’s own dream bill: one that mandates coverage but leaves private companies essentially in charge of setting rates.

And the fact that Joe Lieberman has dictated much of this final, inedible form serves the Democratic Party right. Lieberman should have been stripped of his Chairmanship in early 2007, and given time and attention only as he moved nearer the Party’s goals. With his thirst for the limelight, we might well have seen Lieberman move significantly to the Left.

Perhaps even as far as the position on the Medicare expansion he himself espoused last September.

Had Big Joe been counted out from the beginning, we might be looking at a triggered public option, granted. But as it is, we’re staring down the barrel of an insurance industry gun, with Lieberman’s finger on the trigger.

So if the bill moves forward in this denuded form, don’t be hoodwinked. This is not a historic bill representing half a loaf. The subsidies in the bill are entirely inadequate, if we’re going to mandate coverage; the competition represented by the bill is deliberately ineffective, if we’re serious about bending the cost-curve down.

That’s not half a loaf. That’s moldy bread being sold as penicillin. And VDB isn’t buying. If Lieberman can kill this bill, in his exalted capacity as a single US Senator, then so can Bernie. Everyone is necessary at the end.

Imagine that world: Bernie announces that Big Joe’s compromise is, in Bernie-ese, “an obscenity.” And he promises to prevent it from coming to a vote. Would we risk getting no bread at all? We would.

But better that, in the final analysis, than a world where buying bread is mandatory, and Archer Daniels Midland sets the price of every loaf.

Late Update, 4:20 pm:

Dean weighs in to say much the same: “Kill the bill.” Actually, Dean says scotch this version, and get what we need through reconciliation. Which, last time VDB checked, did not include the need to monitor Lieberman’s opinion hour to hour.

And the calls for Big Joe’s big head are starting in Connecticut.