Obama Denies Vermont Healthcare

Here’s the news as I received it in an Email from Thom Hartmann’s radio show on Wednesday:

“Vermont is one step-closer to becoming the first state to set up a truly universal, single-payer health care system. The Vermont Senate passed the new healthcare bill yesterday – following in the footsteps of the state House that passed the bill last month. Now – it just needs to be signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin who’s already expressed his support for the measure. There IS one last step though – Vermont would need to secure a waiver to opt out of Obamacare in order to build its own healthcare system.

“A handful of lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow states – in particular Vermont – to drop out of Obamacare if they prove they can cover just as many people with insurance as the law would have without adding to the deficit. But surprise, surprise, Republicans don’t like the idea. That’s right – after bashing Obamacare for 2 years – they don’t want to let states drop out of it. What happened to their whole “state’s rights” platform – does that only apply to stuff like abortion and gay marriage – and not to giving people free healthcare? The truth is – Republicans are trembling at thought of Vermont having a single-payer healthcare system to serve as a model for other states. Canada’s single-payer healthcare system started in just one province – Saskatchewan – and then spread across the country because people in other provinces demanded it.

“Republicans fear that the same thing is likely to happen in the United States and they’ll do anything they can to stop it in Vermont. They don’t care about sick people – they care about profits for their buddies – the millionaire private health insurance executives.”

Of course it’s not a surprise that passing a bill through Congress allowing states to create real healthcare solutions is an uphill climb. Congress does what the insurance companies like, and the insurance companies like continuing to exist. But way back yonder in July 2009, the House Committee on Education and Labor, voted 27 to 19 with 13 Republican Yes votes to pass Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s amendment to the healthcare reform bill. This amendment would not have altered the federal legislation except to allow states to create single-payer healthcare systems if they chose to. That’s the one and only thing this amendment did.

First among the 19 members who voted No was Committee Chairman and Democrat George Miller. Congressional staffers who knew told me that President Obama had personally told Miller to block the amendment.

When the legislation that came out of Miller’s committee was merged with the versions from two other House committees, the Kucinich amendment, which did not conflict with anything in any version of the bill, disappeared. Again, the word on the Hill was that Obama had told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip that amendment out. In fact, Pelosi said the President had asked her to do that.

The Democratic Party loyalist groups were, of course, focused on the doomed “public option” and — even more so — on supporting the bill no matter what was in it. Mentioning an amendment that permitted states to pursue serious solutions didn’t harmonize well with the message that the concoction of corporate giveaways churning through Congress was itself a serious solution. Two things is too many to mention in an Email. And so none of the public-optioners, or very few, fought to keep the Kucinich Amendment in.

The single-payer healthcare groups were living in a fantasy world in which they thought they were going to persuade Congress to pass national single-payer healthcare. Talking about a state or two leading the way just wasn’t part of this pretty story. So these groups let the Kucinich Amendment be stripped out without a fight.

Then came the Senate bill, also written at Obama’s careful direction, which added in language forbidding state healthcare solutions through 2017. Obama told Kucinich that the Senate bill included the waivers he’d successfully put into the House bill and seen unceremoniously removed. But this was not true.

Nonetheless, Kucinich got on an airplane with Obama opposing the healthcare bill and wanting his amendment put back in it if it passed. Kucinich got off the airplane supporting the healthcare bill without his amendment restored or any other concession that has ever been mentioned in public.

And now comes Vermont trying to provide a civilized system of health coverage for one state. The other 49 states lose nothing by this. They could conceivably give their citizens vouchers for half what they now spend on healthcare and allow everyone to go buy into the Vermont plan. Tourism to Vermont would get a huge boost. But states that pretended nothing had happened could ignore Vermont and proceed on the same stairway to hell they are on now.

There’s a problem, of course. And the problem is not purely that Republicans are evil. The problem is also that the President of the United States already cut off this escape route.

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