By David Swanson
Lies, damn lies, and promises from Democrats. An amendment allowing states to create state-level single-payer healthcare has been stripped out of the House healthcare bill, after having passed in committee back in July by a vote of 27 to 19. And rumor has it that a vote on national single-payer that was promised in July in exchange for skipping a committee vote on it will now be denied.
First, the state single-payer amendment.
Back in July, the House Committee on Education and Labor did something right, something that could have made all the difference in the world to millions of Americans. Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced in the committee an amendment that would have effectively allowed states to improve on our healthcare system if they chose to, allowed them to create state-level single-payer healthcare. There are bills to do this in several state legislatures already. Such a bill has passed and been vetoed in California twice, where a change in governor is imminent.
President Obama told the committee chairman, George Miller, to oppose Kucinich’s amendment, and he did so, leading off the voting with a resounding “No.” But the Democrats voted 14 to 14 with one member passing and two failing to vote. And the Republicans voted 13 to 5 with one member failing to vote. That added up to 27 yes votes and 19 no votes. Some Republicans may have voted yes simply because the chairman voted no, but they said they were voting yes for states’ rights. And that would be a sensible, decent, and constitutional position. Why shouldn’t states be permitted to do better, as well as worse, than Washington, even if the insurance companies bring in less blood money?
Canada got its healthcare system in one province first. If California or Pennsylvania joins the civilized world and treats healthcare as a right, and eliminates the waste and bureaucracy of the health insurance companies, our whole nation may just be forced to come along, or watch half the population migrate to California and Pennsylvania.
Ah, but it’s not to be. Unless Americans behave as a civilized people and raise holy hell over this immediately. Sadly, a huge chunk of Americans opposes being provided with healthcare, and another huge chunk is drunk with a teenage crush on the guy who no doubt told Pelosi to strip out the amendment.
In the healthcare advocacy world, a big group has focused on the godforsaken bastard policy known as “public option” which at best will offer a token mitigating element in some states for a disastrous healthcare policy imposed on all states. But the states that choose to do right by their residents will not be able to choose a real solution like single-payer, not without a drawn-out legal battle with the insurance companies over the federal laws that Kucinich’s amendment would have waived.
Another big group of healthcare advocates has been so obsessed with getting national single-payer immediately, rather than state-by-state, that they’ve barely lifted a finger for the Kucinich amendment, which I predicted in July would be stripped out.
Which brings us to the Weiner Amendment. The deal cut with Congressman Anthony Weiner was cut in committee. It’s on video. Chairman Henry Waxman told Weiner that Pelosi would allow a floor vote if he skipped a committee vote. Weiner agreed. Weiner may have been lied to. But whether his amendment gets a vote or not, it has served as a big glaring distraction from the Kucinich Amendment.
A conversation I had with Congresswoman Betty Sutton is typical. She told me that the Kucinich Amendment was no big deal and shouldn’t be paid any attention to. She said she wanted everyone to focus on the Weiner Amendment on which she planned to vote yes. Asked if there was any chance the Weiner Amendment would pass, she replied of course not.
From Congresswoman Sutton’s point of view, a bill that will fail is far more important than a life-saving measure in a bill that might pass, because she planned to vote right on the former and brag about it to her constituents. “See, I tried. I really tried.” But if Sutton’s state, Ohio, passes the bill currently making its way through the state legislature and establishes single-payer for all Ohioans, the death panels, aka health insurance companies, will sue. And without the Kucinich Amendment they will win or at least hold things up for several years and several thousand deaths.
Will Sutton or any other members of Congress fight for either of these amendments? Will any of them call out Pelosi? Forcing the Kucinich amendment back into the bill and forcing a floor vote on the Weiner amendment are admirable immediate goals (as of now Pelosi will be allowing no floor amendments of any sort), but healthcare is very complex with the devil in the details, and the details are being written by devils, blood-soaked devils. The central demand of members of Congress must be: Vote No. The reason they should have to listen must be: We will occupy your offices and prevent you from working unless you commit to voting No, but if you commit to voting No and vote No, we will consider possibly not throwing your sorry ass in the street in next year’s elections.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.