Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010, 9:11 am
Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform and Government Cheese
by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger
Republicans don't have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.
Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts "covered up" the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton's world, the fact that there's no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.
Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton's hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).
Health care freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose
If they can't undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.
A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called "health care freedom acts" in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC's long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored "freedom" law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.
Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.
What about Medicare?
At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It's not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.
As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed "Young Guns" of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.
Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition
The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren't eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.
Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino's Pizza created a line of "Legend" pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 "Summer of Cheese" when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.
Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence
In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of "crisis pregnancy centers," anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.
Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women's autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer "sidewalk counselor" for a crisis pregnancy center.
Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:
A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)
Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation's last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”
Flip Benham's slap on the wrist
One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. "Flip" Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting "Wanted" posters with the doctor's picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.
In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, "wanted" posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.
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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.