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Will Obama Fight for Real Change? House Health Vote Slowed as GOP Joins Fringers

Art Levine

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Yesterday’s rally of rabid Tea Baggers” denounced health care reform with venomous attacks on President Obama, complete with a prominent sign of dead concentration camp victims likening the plan to Dachau, just the latest sign of a GOP surrendering to its fringe elements. At the same time, the GOP has offered a new so-called alternative health plan that cannot be taken seriously: it continues to allow insurers to deny those with pre-existing conditions and would likely offer insurance to only three million uninsured Americans, leaving 52 million uninsured.

If that’s what Republicans are for, yesterday’s rally showed just how much extremism is driving what they’re against. As David Corn reported in Politics Daily:

The angry folks at the protest – which attracted several thousand conservatives – held up signs with messages of hate: Get the Red Out of the White House,” Waterboard Congress,” Ken-ya Trust Obama?” One called the president a Traitor to the U.S. Constitution.” Another sign showed pictures of dead bodies at the Dachau concentration camp and compared health care reform to the Holocaust. A different placard depicted Obama as Sambo. Yes, Sambo. Another read, Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds” – a reference to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory holding that one evil Jewish family has manipulated events around the globe for decades.

Adding to such craziness, now GOP and conservaDem sniping over such issues as abortion and immigration threaten to hold up the House vote on the tax-the-rich health plan that’s won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the influential American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) and the AMA.

As the AP reported today:

House Democrats acknowledged they don’t yet have the votes to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system, and signaled they may push back the vote until Sunday or early next week.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters in a conference call Friday that the make-or-break vote on President Barack Obama’s push to make health coverage part of the social safety net could face delay. Democrats were originally hoping to pass the bill on Saturday.

The apparent problem: Democrats have yet to resolve intraparty disputes over abortion funding and illegal immigrants’ access to health care. They cleared one hurdle Friday when liberals supporting a government-run Medicare-for-all system withdrew their demand for a floor vote.

So while single-payer has been taken off the table for nearly a year, leaving a weakened public option as the best outcome progressives can hope for, Republicans were allowed to smear the bill as a government take-over that plans to kill Grandma.

But their own so-called plan has no more substance than some ideas scratched on the back of a cocktail napkin – sort of like the Laffer curve behind Reagan-era tax policy – except in this case what’s being offered is the equivalent of Republicans handing out copies of a last-minute drawing on a cocktail napkin, rather than any substantive proposal.

As I’ve previously reported, drawing on the research at the Center for American Progress, Republicans delayed for months uniting behind their own plan. And when Congress was actively consideration health legislation in committees, the Center for American Progress’s Dr. Lesley Russell found, Republicans only offered five amendments out of countless provisions in a total of 37 bills that just rehashed GOP nostrums of tax cuts, vouchers and limiting patient lawsuits (a/​k/​a tort reform”).

So, even if the House plan was a serious GOP plan to offer market-based solutions to the health care crisis, it couldn’t be taken seriously at all because it was never offered while Congress was actively considering health care reform. 

So just how bad is the GOP plan? As Progress Report points out, yesterday’s hate-filled event on Capitol Hill was a Rally for No Solution.”

As the Progress Report summarized the flaws:

Indeed, the recently released GOP alternative bill does little to address the problems facing the American health care system. The Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP bill would only insure about 3 million Americans, leaving 52 million without coverage while doing nothing to prevent discrimination for people with pre-existing conditions, as Boehner himself admitted. And because the plan allows coverage to be purchased across state lines, insurance companies would be permitted to ignore all of the consumer protection laws or restrictions on rate changes of the state.” The overall goal of the GOP proposal is to reduce costs, but millions of Americans would remain uninsured and continue to pay higher premiums. In fact, many members of the Republican House Leadership would likely be unable to find affordable insurance under their own proposal, should they chose to give up their government-sponsored plans. Republican leaders hosted an 12-hour-long web-cast townhall” yesterday to defend their health-care proposal and kill” the Democratic bill. The event, dubbed Pelosi Plan Exposed: 12 Truths about PelosiCare and Republican Alternatives,” stuck to right-wing talking points about the government taking over” the health care system and did little to present the GOP plan as a rational alternative to the Democratic plan.

But the GOP leaders, offering a mirage of a plan while scaring its increasingly extremist base with lies and distortions about health reform, have decided that they’ll seek to tap into the much-vaunted energy of the Tea Party” protesters to catapult themselves back to power. It will bring a new ugliness to American political life, even if many of the protesters are motivated not simply by racism but a genuine distress at a troubled economy and anger at Big Government” that could serve as fuel for a faux-GOP populism that could go beyond the crazies at yesterday’s rally. 

What should progressives do? One place to start is to ramp up current grass-roots lobbying to mount more effective, better-organized pressure on a President and Congress seemingly too willing to accept half-measures, at best, on everything from an economic stimulus to regulating Wall Street to climate change to health care reform. A politically savvy liberal columnist for The Hill, Brent Budowsky, has highlighted in two recent columns the political and moral imperatives for Obama to take the bold steps needed to match the soaring rhetoric of change of his campaign. In Come Home, Mr. President,” he argues:

My view, held by a growing number of Democrats, is this: The president should come home to the first principles of his campaign and act more in the tradition of great change presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.

The president should be more engaged in the aggressive battles for real change, more activist with Democrats in Congress, more clear about the first principles of his presidency and more bold in appealing to voters to rise up and demand change as he promised in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president.

The president should consider replacing Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary with a secretary committed to major change in financial markets. He should wage a great battle for public- and private-sector programs to create jobs; he should appeal to Republicans for support; but he should also fight for a jobs program of substance and power.

The president should recognize that the nation voted for a Democratic president and Democratic Congress with a large majority and take full responsibility. He should contact Democratic senators on the public option and other matters and make it clear to them, in ways he has not done: Your president needs you.”

And in The Mother of All Political Wars,” he points out just how much is at stake if we don’t see strong reform initiatives from this administration:

I recently proclaimed the hopes for a Democratic realignment dead. The party that promised change appears to be the latest agent of a status quo that is reviled by a large majority of Americans.

Now a new reality emerges. If the president returns to the roots of his 2008 campaign and fights for genuinely transformative change, and the Republicans learn the wrong lesson of 2009, a Democratic realignment is again possible.

However, the president may not learn the proper lessons. He may not be the bold change agent he promised. If this proves true, and Republicans play their cards properly, the GOP could win an epic anti-incumbent landslide that sweeps Democrats from power in the House.

He sees in Tuesday’s election a foreshadowing of an anti-incumbent rage that both Democratic and Republican spinmeisters played down as they tried to spin the results in ways that made their party look like the winners. Budowsky sees it differently:

Now, like many Americans, I am appalled, saddened and disgusted as business as usual continues while Americans endure pain, abuse and economic injustice while insiders proceed as though 2008 was just a public-relations pitch.

In 2009, many who believed in the Obama hope stayed home. Under-30 voters stayed home. Black voters. New voters from 2008. Independent voters who were more liberal, moderate and reformist stayed home.

The voters did not change between 2008 and 2009. The president changed. The voters’ perception of him changed. Nice man, no fight, little change, bad election.

2009 brought a revolt against incumbents by an electorate disgusted by the status quo. In Virginia and New Jersey, the Democrats were incumbent. They lost. In the 23rd district of New York, Republicans were incumbent. They lost. In New York City, an Independent mayor was incumbent. He almost lost.

Left, right and center are unhappy. Democratic, Republican and Independent incumbents paid the price…

Hard-hit voters desperately yearning for change see a president they like who fails to fight for transforming change, opposed by a party that opposes any change. Grassroots Democrats stay home. Grassroots conservatives revolt. Grassroots independents throw up their hands. The center cannot hold until someone stands up and fights for the change the voters demand.

Just because a majority of voters still support President Obama, it doesn’t mean, as Democratic pundits say, that the all the state and local races don’t have any national significance outside of the Republicans’ implosion in New York’s 23rd district. Budowsky points out:

I don’t know if the president becomes the president he can be, or if the Republicans move so far right they self-destruct yet again. I don’t know if the president leads the way to a great Democratic realignment or the Republicans win a landslide victory in 2010, but I do know this:

There is a freight train headed for this town and incumbents of both parties will soon learn that the people demand real change and they must lead, follow or the people will push them out of the way.

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Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
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