Monday, April 28, 2008

Rockefeller, Congress, and Healthcare: The Quote Heard 'Round The Net

One of the big topics in the blogosphere right now is the article by Manu Raju on The Hill that talks about Congressional Democrats crabwalking on the issue of health care reform:

Congressional Democrats are backing away from healthcare reform promises made by their two presidential candidates, saying that even if their party controls the White House and Congress, sweeping change will be difficult.

It is still seven months before Election Day, but already senior Democrats are maneuvering to lower public expectations on the key policy issue.
Considering the profile of the health care debate in the current election, this is news that, unsurprisingly, seems to be spreading like wildfire across the Internet. The most often quoted part is this statement:
"We all know there is not enough money to do all this stuff," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a Finance Committee member and an Obama supporter, referring to the presidential candidates' healthcare plans. “What they are doing is … laying out their ambitions."
Ezra Klein at The American Prospect has his doubts about the veracity of this report, and that quote is one of the reasons:
That scans oddly for two reasons. The first is money. Obama's aides say the plan would cost between $50 billion and $65 billion a year. Assume they're lowballing, and the real number is $80 billion. That's some cash, to be sure but it's not a level of outlay that tends to make Senators balk. We're spending far more on Iraq, on tax cuts, and a host of other projects. The money could probably be found fairly easily -- and it's certainly not hard for Senators to say it could be found fairly easily. So that looks strange.
When viewed in relation to other governmental expenditures it does seem like a comparatively small sum. Klein goes on to analyze the quote itself and the reporter who provides it:

The second oddity is "all this stuff." A health care bill contains a lot of stuff, to be sure, but it's generally referred to in the singular. It's a bill. It's big, and you can either do it or not do it. Moreover, the only proof we have that he was talking health care is that the reporter says so. It sounds to me like Rockefeller is saying something much broader and more mundane: That if you look at the domestic agendas of Clinton and Obama, there's not enough money nor political will to do all of it. You're not going to get health care and tax cuts and energy policy and housing reform and education and poverty and everything else you promised in the campaign. And even if you could muster the will, you can't find the funds. That leads to the question of priorities, but that's no surprise.

Jonathon Cohn of the New Republic's response is dismayed:

This is pretty discouraging stuff. Rockefeller is a longtime advocate for universal coverage; his moral commitment to the issue is not in question. And Baucus, whose comments were much less negative but still not enthusiastic, chairs the Finance Committee--through which any universal coverage bill must go.

Still, this isn't the last word on the subject. I just got off the phone with Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, who in recent years has done as much to promote the cause of universal coverage as any single person in politics. And he is not at all happy.

"I thought it was embarassing," Stern said. "I think it showed an incredible lack of appreciation for what most Americans are confronting every day in this health care system. ... What was said in this aritcle is not the kind of leadership that I think Americans are expecting after this election."

Whatever the context of the quotes was, it sure is generating a lot of discussion. I am sure that by the time this is posted there will be a vast array of opinions being voiced from blog pulpits and news outlets everywhere. Go check out these articles and render your own opinion. Our comments section welcomes you!

SOURCE: "Dems hedge on Health Care" 04/23/08
SOURCE: "Is Congress Backing Off health Care Reform?" 04/24/08
SOURCE: " Stern to Congress: Don't Chicken Out on Health Care." 04/24/08
photo courtesy of The Gold Guys /Lumax Art, used under its Creative Commons license

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