There is tremendous fear rising on both the right and the left that the announced intention of Congress - to force every American to pay tribute to private corporations, with no government alternative - sets a dangerous and frightening precedent with implications far outside the scope of health care.
If the health care bill written by the Senate is passed, middle class Americans will be mandated to pay almost as much to private insurance companies as they do to the federal government in taxes, with the IRS acting as a collection agency for penalties of 2% of your annual income for refusing to comply.
This is just one of many recent measures that have brought liberal progressives and conservative libertarians together to join forces in opposition:
- Democrat Alan Grayson worked successfully this year with Republican Ron Paul to pass legislation to audit the Federal Reserve, with 317 cosponsors as diverse as Dennis Kucinich and Michelle Bachmann.
- On December 3, the liberal Campaign for America's Future wrote a letter to the Senate opposing the reconfirmation of Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke until such an audit has been conducted. The letter was signed by James Galbraith, Robert Weisman, Chris Bowers and myself on the left, and Grover Norquist, Phillis Schlafly, and Larry Greenley on the right. Financial blogger Tyler Durden and young organizer Tiffiniy Cheng joined them.
- Also on December 3, conservative Jim Bunning joined liberal Bernie Sanders in placing a hold on the Bernanke nomination until the Fed had been audited.
- On December 15, CAF again sent a letter to the Senate Banking Committee, asking them to delay the vote on the Bernanke confirmation until Audit the Fed received a stand alone vote in the Senate. It was signed by Matt KIbbe of Freedomworks, John Tate of the Campaign for Liberty, and Grover Norquist on the right, and David Swanson of AfterDowiningStreet, Dean Baker and Robert Borosage on the left.
- On December 21, a letter was written opposing the mandate in the health care bill. It was signed by Bob Fertik of Democrats.com, Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny, Brad Friedman of Velvet Revolution, Tim Carpenter of Progressive Democrats of America on the left and Grover Norquist, Jim Martin of 60 Plus Association, Duane Parde of the National Taxpayers Union on the right.
- On December 23, Grover Norquist and I sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an investigation into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's conflicts of interest before the White House could lift the cap on the commitment to them from $400 billion to $800 billion with no Inspector General in place.
The individuals on both sides of the political spectrum who signed these letters agree on very little, but they do share both a tremendous concern for the corporatist control of government that politicians in both parties seem hell-bent on achieving.
In 2003, the Democrats railed in opposition when the Republicans passed Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage that didn't allow for negotiated drug prices. And in 2006 when Democrats took over Congress, one of the hallmarks of their first hundred days was passing legislation allowing Medicare to do so, supported by both Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. Of course, it had no chance of passing with George Bush in the White House.
Candidate Barack Obama said the ability to negotiate for drug prices would save $30 billion a year in medical costs. Yet when President Obama got to the White House, one of the first things he did was negotiate a secret deal with PhRMA that prevented drug price negotiations in exchange for $150 million in political advertising to help vulnerable Democrats in the House and in support of the health care bill.
In the Senate, Tom Carper said that because PhRMA had paid for the deal with political advertising, they were obligated to abide by it.
Jeff Sessions railed against the corrupt PhRMA deal that didn't allow for prescription drug price negotiation. He didn't mention that he voted for the 2000 bill without it, and when he had the chance to vote for it in the Senate in 2006, he voted "no" himself. Both parties are equally blameworthy - the only difference is who is in power and taking PhRMA's money.
The PhRMA deal is one of many negotiated by the White House this last summer which formed the underpinnings of the health care bill. From then on, it just became a matter of which member was going to extract what deals for their votes, and who was going to take the blame for cutting popular elements from the legislation that the corporate "stakeholders" didn't want.
As FDL's Jon Walker wrote recently, if the ability to cut health care costs hadn't been auctioned off to private corporations in exchange for political patronage, there would have been no government subsidy necessary to make insurance coverage affordable.
We are ceding control of the government to private corporations, not figuratively but literally. When the Senate Finance Committee bill was released earlier this year, the "author" was a former VP of Wellpoint. Liberals, conservatives and independents alike are all justifiably alarmed at what this represents.
It is tragic that health care for the poor is being held hostage to the corporatist agenda, a fig leaf to buy public support and disguise this bill for what it is. As blogger Marcy Wheeler noted in a piece called Health Care and the Road to Neo-Feudalism:
I understand the temptation to offer 30 million people health care. What I don't understand is the nonchalance with which we're about to fundamentally shift the relationships of governance in doing so.
Just as those on the libertarian right were demonized by the Republican establishment for opposing the Iraq war during the Bush years, so progressives on the left are being pilloried for "damaging the cause" by joining with Republicans to oppose these extreme measures. It's ironic that the most virulent supporters of a President who ran on "bipartisanship" should reject it so vehemently when it becomes critical of the policies pursued by his White House.
This "right-left wraparound" is happening because politicians in both parties have become so unresponsive to popular sentiment: public support for stifling investigation of the bank bailouts just to protect the President are infinitesimally small, and fortunately Dennis Kucinich announced today that he would commence an investigation into the Fannie/Freddie bailout. But it's a testament to the extreme nature of what is happening to our government that such traditional political foes could find common cause in opposing it.
It's foolish to say that only those who agree with you on every issue are allowed to share your opinion when it comes to opposing something like the mandated bailout of Aetna - it isn't necessary to achieve health care reform. As Jon Walker notes, removing the mandate would reduce the CBO score and its inclusion in the health care bill with no government alternative is unacceptable for moral, political and policy reasons.
Candidate Obama himself opposed the mandate. Keith Olberman and Howard Dean concur.
As Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos said, "remove the mandate or kill this bill." We've opened a "war room" at Firedoglake with information about calling your member of Congress to demand that this provision to bail out the insurance industry be removed from the health care bill before they agree to cast their vote in favor of it.
And nobody needs to pass an ideological purity test before they can use it.
Join us to oppose the mandate. Enter the war room.
© 2009 firedoglake
Jane Hamsher is the founder of firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on The Daily Beat, AlterNet, The Nation and The American Prospect.
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