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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009, 10:58 am

Weekly Pulse: The Rocky Road to Reform

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Healthcare dominated domestic politics this week, as Congress and the President outlined their visions for reform. The president is pushing Congress to pass a bill that keeps healthcare costs in check before the August deadline. Obama must have been disappointed when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced last week that the Dem's healthcare bills won't cut spending. The president won't sign a bill that doesn't contain costs, so legislators know they'll have to tweak the bill.

Obama's strenuous efforts to pass healthcare reform have invited comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, which created the American social safety net. In Salon, Michael Lind argues that Obama's insistence on tying health insurance to employment actually betrays the legacy of the New Deal:

We decided that when it came to benefits our guiding principle should be a "citizen-based social contract." We chose this phrase, not to discriminate against non-citizens, but to express two ideas: first, that benefits like healthcare ought to be not a privilege but rather an entitlement of all citizens in our democratic republic, and second, that all benefits should be detached from employers and follow individuals through their lives. In thinking about healthcare, we rejected various options that would not move us toward a citizen-based social insurance system. Unfortunately, the health plan being promoted by Obama and Congress is based on one of those bad options.

Special interests are sparing no expense in their final campaign to influence healthcare reform. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., was charged with crafting a public plan for a bipartisan seal of approval, but raked in more than $3 million from healthcare lobbyists and industry groups between 2003 and 2008, according to Mike Lillis of the
Washington Independent. Baucus announced that he was swearing off healthcare bucks after June 1 in order to avoid the "appearance" of conflict of interest.

Aides for Baucus told The Post that the Finance chairman stopped accepting contributions from healthcare PACs after June 1 to eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. But he’s not doing a very good job following through. On June 15, according to the Federal Election Commission, Baucus accepted $5,000 from the Schering Plough Corporate Better Government Fund.

Baucus's staff say the Schering Plough money has since been returned. No word on whether the money got sent back before or after the story hit the media.

Advocates of single payer did score a victory last week. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) managed to pass an amendment to the House bill that gives states the option of creating their own single payer healthcare systems.

John Nichols of The Nation explains that the Kucinich amendment opened the door to single payer. As Nichols points out, Canada didn't start with a national single payer system. The province of Saskatchewan created its own healthcare program that became the model for Canada's celebrated Medical Services Plan.

Josh Holland of AlterNet says the Kucinich amendment may salvage healthcare reform. That sounds a bit hyperbolic, but it's definitely a step forward. For additional background, check out Truthdig's interview with Kucinich.

Abortion was back in the news this week. The Prospect's Dana Goldstein notes that the White House appears to be vacillating as to whether abortions will be covered by national healthcare. Health and budget guru Peter Orzag danced around the issue on the last Meet the Press.

This kind of equivocation is part of a pattern: Back in March, senior Obama domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, a former Planned Parenthood board member, insulted the intelligence of viewers of the Christian Broadcasting Network by claiming that she hadn't even discussed the issue with Obama.

Should the anti-abortionist zealot accused of gunning down Dr. George Tiller be charged as a domestic
? I weigh the pros and cons in my new piece at RH Reality Check.

Finally, Laura Miller of Salon favorably reviews Ryan Grim's new book, This is Your Country on Drugs, an offbeat social history of America's twin love affairs with drugs and moral panics over drugs.

With the August deadline looming, legislators will be scrambling to get their respective bills in shape in time to pass healthcare reform through the budget reconciliation process. Odds are that the bills will be further scaled back and watered down in the process.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out and

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by href="">NewsLadder.

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 (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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