'Party of No' Blocks Debate on Bernie Sanders' Real ReformThe Senate almost debated health care reform this seek. No, not the tepid tinkering proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in the compromised for demanded by Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Insurance Industry. We're talking real reform.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has always understood that the real reform involves a lot more than enriching insurance companies with massive new infusions of federal money.
The real reform takes the insurance companies out of the equation and replaces them with a single-payer Medicare-for-All system that provides care to all Americans and cuts costs by eliminating corporate profiteering.
The Medicare-for-All reform has always been the right fix. Barack Obama, as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2003, said as much.
"I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program," he told a crowd of union activists. "I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what (reformers are) talking about when (they say) everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see."
Obama was right six years ago. Unfortunately, he has opted for compromise and the result is the unfocused, lobbyist-driven, spin-defined debate over so-called "reform."
Sanders has kept to the real reform path and, on Wednesday, he was supposed to get a vote on a proposal to amend the Senate health-care reform bill to replace all the compromises with a single-payer plan that would provide health care and dental coverage for every American, save money, and improve health care results.
"In my view, the single-payer approach is the only way we will ever have a cost-effective, comprehensive health care system in this country," explained the independent senator from Vermont. "One of the reasons our current health care system is so expensive, so wasteful, so bureaucratic, so inefficient is that it is heavily dominated by private health insurance companies whose only goal in life is to make as much money as they can."
Like many of the amendments proposed by Democratic and Republican senators during the current wrangling over health-care reform, the Sanders amendment was not going to pass. But the prospect of the debate on it offered a rare opportunity for the Senate to engage in real debate about what needs to be done to provide care for all and eliminating unnecessary costs.
The Sanders amendment offered senators a chance to get serious about the fiscal responsibility they are so very inclined to discuss but so very disinclined to embrace.
As Sanders and his aides explained in their argument for the amendment: "The 1,300 profit-making private insurance companies administer thousands of separate plans and waste about $400 billion a year on administrative costs, profiteering, high CEO compensation packages, and advertising. Health care providers spend another $210 billion on administrative costs, mostly to deal with insurance paperwork. As a result, the United States spends $7,129 per person on health care, almost double the amount spent by nearly any other industrialized country. Nevertheless, 46 million Americans lack health insurance, 100 million Americans cannot access dental care, and 60 million Americans do not have access to primary care."
Compare that $7,129 per person figure for the U.S. with per capita health spending figures for countries with genuine national health care plans, such as Canada's $3,895 and Austria's $3,763 on health care costs. Both of these countries provide fuller care for people who live longer and healthier lives than do Americans.
Those are the facts, and those facts terrify "Party of No" Republicans and the many Democrats who imagine that they represent the insurance industry rather than constituents who need more care at less cost.
Rather than allow the Sanders amendment to be debated as every other proposal to improve a fundamentally flawed Senate proposal, Republican senators engaged in extreme obstructionist tactics to block consideration of the amendment. Rejecting Senate tradition and standard practice during the current debate, several conservatives demanded that the clerk of the Senate read every word of the 767-page amendment Sanders proposed.
Recognizing that the move would stall action not just on health care reform but on a host of economic issues that are critical to unemployed Americans, Sanders had no choice but to pull the amendment off the floor. But he was not happy about what happened.
"The fact that 17 percent of our people are unemployed or underemployed, one out of four of our children are living on food stamps, we've got two wars, we've got global warming, we have a $12 trillion national debt, and the best the Republicans can do is try to bring the United States government to a half by forcing a reading of a 700 page amendment. That is an outrage," Sanders said. "People can have honest disagreements, but in this moment of crisis it is wrong to bring the United States government to a halt."
Opponents of real reform made the sad and frustrating spectacle that is the current debate all the more sad and frustrating.
But Sanders still has history on his side.
"At the end of the day -- not this year, not next year, but sometime in the future -- this country will come to understand that if we are going to provide comprehensive quality care to all of our people, the only way we will do that is through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system," the senator says.
That is the truth, uttered by an honest reformer, in the midst of a debate on which Americans will one day look back in anger. Real reform is not coming this year or next. But it will, it must, come. And when it does, it should be remembered that Bernie Sanders tried to get the Senate to do the right thing.
Copyright © 2009 The NationJohn Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy - from The New Press. Nichols' latest book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.