Obamacare and the politics of sabotage


    Once upon a time in an ever-distant America, a bill passed by Congress, signed by the president, and validated by the Supreme Court was assumed to be the law of the land. How quaint that seems today.

    Obamacare has a lot of moving parts, and clearly some of them are creaky – as evidenced by the Obama administration’s July 2 decision to give employers with 50 or more workers one extra year before requiring them to provide health coverage. But the foes of Obamacare, having already been beaten in Congress and in national elections and in the high court, still have no interest in helping America join the rest of the western world in offering health care for all.

    Instead of trying to make the law of the land work, instead of doing the hard job of governance – like seriously considering a recent business-backed bill that would’ve tweaked the employer mandate – they’ve chosen the path of partisan sabotage. They continue to attack the law (with a brand-new lie, as we shall see momentarily), behaving as if it’s still 2009 (when the cry of “death panels!” led the league in lying). Worse yet, they’re actively working to prevent the public from learning more about what the law actually says.

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    A trio of the latest highlights:

    1. The Koch brothers, a couple of GOP pals who will never wont for health coverage, are currently pumping a million bucks into yet another TV ad that seeks to undercut the law of the land and deprive the uninsured of health coverage. A young mom (or an actress playing a young mom) stares earnestly at the viewer and asks, “If we can’t pick our own doctor, how do I know my family’s going to get the care they need?”

    We can’t pick our own doctor…That’s a blatant lie. The government fact sheetact sheet on health reform states in plain English: “You have the right to choose the doctor you want from your health plan’s provider network. You also can use an out-of-network emergency room without penalty. You pick your doctor. You can choose any available primary care provider in your insurance plan’s network. You can choose any available network pediatrician as your child’s primary care doctor.”

    But for the Kochs and their political allies, lying is a good investment – because it works. According to a June Gallup poll, only 16 percent of Americans say they’re “very familiar” with Obamacare, and that’s great news for those who continue to prey on ignorance. Sowing disinformation is a far easier task than public education. The government is working on the latter, as key implementation deadlines draw near, but it’s up against a crowd that no longer hews to the quaint notion that elections have consequences.

    2. Speaking of public education, the government thought it would be great if the major sports leagues helped spread the word about the law’s provisions and benefits – much the way Gov. Mitt Romney got the Boston Red Sox to partner with him to spread the word about Romneycare. So the sports leagues were approached. But in toxic 2013, there was no way the saboteurs of health reform would stand for that.

    The highest-ranking Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, fired off a June letter to the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR, warning that it would damage the leagues’ reputations if they dared partner on a public education campaign, “given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of this bill….It is difficult for us to remember another occasion when (a) major sports league took public sides in such a highly polarized debate.” And a congressman, Steve Scalise, wrote his own letter: “I would caution you against being coerced into doing (the health reform officials’) dirty work.”

    The saboter mentality is rife in those excerpts. First of all, Obamacare isn’t a “bill” anymore. Second, health reform became a “highly polarized debate” replete with “divisiveness” because the Republicans polarized it and continue to sow that divisiveness. Third, the government merely asked whether the leagues wanted to partner; it’s paranoia to suggest without a shred of evidence that the leagues were being “coerced.”

    And since when is a public service effort to inform Americans about health benefits tantamount to “dirty work?”

    3. Some legislative foes of Obamacare have stated publicly that they won’t help their constituents to learn the law and reap its benefits. Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp said last month: “It’s much easier to say, ‘Call your former governor'” – referring to Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor. Huelskamp described his phone manner: “You say, ‘She’s the one. She’s responsible.'”

    Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz has the same attitude: “We know how to forward a phone call…The ball’s in their court (referring to the Obama team). They’re responsible for it.”

    Let us review the basics of Governing 101. After a law is enacted and signed and validated by the highest court in the land, all elected officials regardless of party are responsible for it. You work with it, or tweak it, in the interests of serving the citizens who would benefit from it. You don’t sabotage it, at the expense of the citizens you were elected to serve.

    A history lesson: Back in 2003, when President Bush and his Capitol Hill allies enacted the Medicare prescription-drug expansion law, doing so with generous applications of parliamentary muscle, the minority Democrats were seriously ticked off. They complained that the law was a gift to private insurers; they hated the provision that barred the government from shopping around for lower prices; they rightly pointed out that the law busted the budget, that it wasn’t paid for.

    But did they try to sabotage the law? Nope. Did they conspire to undercut Bush’s public outreach campaign? Nope. Did their allies attack the law with lying TV ads? Nope.

    Alas, that basic respect for the law of the land is so 10 years ago.


    Meanwhile, it’s a good thing that this guy didn’t become veep in a Mitt administration. Odds are, he would’ve become the next Spiro Agnew. (Please don’t ask, “Why? What happened to Spiro Agnew?” Or, worse yet, “Who’s Spiro Agnew?”)


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1



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