Thursday, January 21, 2010

Health care “issue” won’t go away. Or, who are 7 percent with “no” opinion?

There are those people who are gloating that the death last year of Ted Kennedy, a long-time champion of serious health care reform, ultimately started the process that could kill off President Barack Obama’s attempts to achieve that goal.

For it now is possible with the election of a Republican this week in a special election to finish the remainder of Kennedy’s term in the U.S. Senate that the GOP – if they unite as a caucus – has enough votes to “filibuster” on issues.

IN SHORT, THEY can prevent anything they want from getting voted on, regardless of whether or not a majority of Congress wants to do something. Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady was bloviating Tuesday night even before the Democratic candidate's defeat was official.

Now I’m not going to complain about the concept of the filibuster – it exists to prevent a majority from running roughshod over their opponents. It is supposed to encourage bipartisan cooperation, although all it does many times is create political inaction.

Besides, being from Chicago, the period of government we are going to be in for the remainder of this year and possibly the next two will seem familiar.

I’m old enough to remember “Council Wars,” that period of the mid-1980s when opponents of then-Mayor Harold Washington had a majority and used it to kill off anything Washington desired to do.

OF COURSE, WASHINGTON had that veto power to kill anything that his opposition majority wanted. What we in Chicago got for a few years was a period of petty bickering (often racially-tinged) and a complete lack of activity.

Which is what the Republican caucuses in Congress want. Since they don’t have the majorities and control like they once did in the early 2000s to ram through their own partisan agenda, they want a period of nothingness – in part because they don’t want an Obama administration to accomplish something that will go into the history books as politically or culturally significant.

Anybody who doubts that racial considerations factor into this political equation is being naïve. I’ll be the first to admit that some people in this country felt like the 2008 election of Obama with its "historic" overtones was a rejection of their “values.” Whether or not that “rejection” was a good thing is an issue for another day.

So a of this is about denying Obama any accomplishments, of which passing a health care reform program into law would have been a significant one.

NOW I KNOW there is talk going around Washington about how to take the current situation and get around the political partisan rules that could prevent a straight-forward consideration of the issue.

Some of it centers around forcing the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to accept the Senate version of health care reform, rather than trying to reconcile the differing measures that passed through the House and Senate.

That causes a distaste among the “blue dogs,” the basically-conservative officials who managed somehow to get elected as Democrats even though they come from largely rural, conservative areas. Because it means they’re going to have to eat a certain amount of crow from their Democratic colleagues.

Others think it might just be best to give up on the current bill, which pundits like George Will already are saying is evidence of Obama’s ineffectualness. They blame him for placing so much attention on a single issue, then failing to deliver.

THE “POLITICAL HACK” in me can see the logic, because it would emphasize the fact that the issue failed due to the Republican opposition that was purely for partisan political reasons. There is a part of me who wonders if Obama’s re-election bid is now clinched because he’s going to have an easy target to blame for everything he will try to do – but which the GOP legislators will knock down in hopes that a future president of their ideological preference can address and get credit for.

The people who for the past year have been critical of Obama for inactivity are going to have their eyes opened as to who is deliberately standing in the way of the progressive goals they would like to see our government achieve.

But a large part of the problems with our governments these days is that the “political hack” in all of us is being allowed to prevail over the part of us that is concerned with doing “the people’s business.”

When it comes to health care, the problem remains. There is that “47 million” figure, as in the estimated number of people who do not have any form of insurance to cover the cost of their medical treatment. The end result is that in some cases, these people place burdens on the emergency rooms of our hospitals to get some minimal form of care and the hospitals suffer financially by having to “eat” the cost.

IN MOST CASES, though, those people just don’t get the adequate level of care, which makes them a drag on our society.

Which is the part that I think the ideologues on this issue who want to believe that someone else’s health care isn’t their problem are failing to believe. Having that many uninsured is a drag on our society. It’s that so-called “weak link” threatening the strength of the whole chain. Just because some people prefer to put partisan politics ahead of addressing the issue does not mean the issue goes away.

For those who want to spin this issue as somehow being related to Obama’s unpopularity, I couldn’t help but notice the Gallup Organization’s daily update Wednesday for the president’s approval rating. Forty-three percent of those surveyed disapprove, compared to 50 percent approving.

Which makes me wonder how this disapproving minority can be that haughty? And what cave have those other7 percent of the public been living in this year?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will the political gamesmanship skills of our Congress be tested in coming days (,0,5376753.story) to try to salvage ( something from the past year’s debate on health care reform?

Perhaps the reason the president’s “approval” rating seems so low these days is because it was so ridiculously high ( in the early, giddy days of his administration. Nobody seriously could have maintained that “high.”

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