Public option dies again, kind of, as Senate grinds toward halt

A bunch of millionaires who look like TV weathermen agonize over how best to keep you from getting free medicine.

A bunch of millionaires dressed like TV weathermen agonize over how best to keep you from getting discount antibiotics.

Those of us with recently re-dislocated shoulders and $35,000 insurance deductibles can go straight to hell and fuck ourselves again, as the federal government has decided overwhelmingly that, as a nation, we must conquer Afghanistan and then leave, but that we must not offer any sort of public health insurance. Those two issues are not strictly connected, but still. According to the New York Times, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D–NV, net worth $3–$6 million) announced a compromise last night among 10 Senate Democrats that would eliminate government-run health insurance, but retain the possibility of allowing individuals to buy into the same group plans currently offered to members of Congress. It will also let people aged 55 to 64 buy into Medicare, which is not too terribly helpful for the nation, considering that age group contains the lowest percentage of uninsured adults of any demographic in America. Such compromises are necessary, though, in order to get moderate and liberal Democratic senators to agree to pass some sort of health care reform bill. Notice that sentence did not contain the word “Republican.” That’s right, Combat! readers: the Democratic Party, which enjoys a sixty-seat majority in the Senate and controls both the House and the presidency, in its continuing effort to pass the centerpiece of its legislative agenda for this election cycle, has rejected a measure that 68% of Americans support because it has been forced to compromise with itself.

First of all, we’re still going to be required by law to buy health insurance from private corporations, right? Phew—thank god corporatism remains safe, because I was afraid my embalmed corpse of Mussolini was going to keep rolling over and upsetting my cat pictures. Second of all, those of us less prone to hysterical/corpse-related rhetoric might wonder: Why are the Democrats jeopardizing their political future by infighting in a Senate over which they exercise near-total control? Consider Senator Ben Nelson (D–NE), who has publicly refused to vote for any bill that would allow individuals to use federal subsidies to purchase insurance plans that cover abortions. Sure, the insurance industry is his number-one campaign contributor ($1.2 million over the course of his career,) and the health industry is number three, but popular consensus is that Nelson is using the abortion thing as a political tool. He’s a Democrat in a rural, relatively conservative state, and that means pro-lifing it up so he can get reelected. If doing so ensures that his own party fails to pass the meaningful reform that has become the central promise of their presidential and congressional administrations, thus virtually guaranteeing a nationwide backlash in 2010 and 2012, then so be it. I’m sure there would never be an eruption of populist rage in Nebraska.

The shortsightedness of men like Nelson is only part of the problem, though. As E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post points out, much of the Democratic infighting is attributable to a brilliant and relentless plan by the GOP to bring virtually all Senate business to a halt. Those of you who watch the Daily Show—or, better yet, are friends with Jacek and got it like three days before—are already familiar with Senator Judd Gregg’s (R–NH, net worth $3-$10 million, top contributors: insurance, pharmaceuticals, health professionals) memo advising his Republican colleagues of procedural means by which they might indefinitely delay Senate business. When I read that memo, I assumed the dirty pool therein would only be applied to the health care bill. Little did I know, Senate Republicans are also using procedural tactics to stall bills that they otherwise support. Particularly egregious was their attempt to block cloture on a bill to extend unemployment benefits, which ultimately passed by a vote of 98 to 0.

The GOP is refusing to close debate on bills that they unanimously support, and it’s a great idea. Dionne believes that their obstructionism is a primary cause of Democratic infighting; he likens Senate Democrats to drivers who are stopped in rush hour traffic and begin honking and shouting at each other out of sheer frustration. It’s an apt metaphor, but it ignores the simpler and more terrifyingly Machiavellian element of the Republicans’ scheme. At this point, “Congress” and “Democrats” are synonymous in popular political discourse. The more Congress proves itself unable to pass even uncontroversial measures, the more the American public will be inclined to vote the rascals out. It’s a brilliant plan.

By “brilliant plan,” I of course mean “plan that breaks the federal government.” The GOP is like a toddler who smashes his birthday cake because he didn’t get that pony. Presumably, there remain some Senators of both parties who want to serve their country more than they want to see their enemies thwarted at every turn. They are evidently in the minority, however, and most Senators seem willing to destroy the village in order to save it. Perhaps it’s because, as an assembly of millionaires, few of the decisions they make or scenarios they consider actually relate to their lives. Maybe Dick Durbin (D–IL, net worth $1 million) is not aware that the cheapest insurance plan offered by Assurant doesn’t cover visits to the doctor. The founding fathers originally conceived the Senate as a deliberative body whose measured consideration would counteract the passions of the House. They probably did not envision that deliberation grinding to a halt, as the deliberators concluded they could profit most by not doing anything at all.

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  1. One need only look to Newt Gingrich’s past to see a Republican party determined to simply thwart any move by the Democratic President. (Clinton, who seemed determined to thwart his own efforts to achieve by giving undue attention to his baser instincts.) As to our elected representatives in general, it seems we little people are smack up against the caveat “Don’t get between the mother (pig) and the baby (trough)”.

    I’m about ready to support term limits (8 years)…and maybe a cut in senate pensions. Then perhaps these rich old white guys will have a stake in how the vast majority of citizens live; and I can stop paying $7000 a year in health insurance premiums.

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