Sunday, February 21, 2010
Couple of days ago, I, along with four other docs, met with one of the most progressive of US Congressmen. Surprisingly, he gave us one and a half hours of his time, and it was at least as entertaining as it was enlightening.
With regard to health care reform, he is guardedly optimistic. He thinks there will be a bill, that it will probably be woefully lacking in various ways, but that it'll be a necessary step on the road to real and needed measures. He didn't think there'd be any Republican help in the process, and he predicted nothing will come of the televised "bipartisan" meeting. Big surprise.
Explaining his (guarded) optimism, he pointed to several differences between now and the times when Clinton's effort failed: then, he said, reform was supported neither by unions, businesses, nor doctor groups. Already under fire, unions back then -- he said -- saw the ability to get health benefits for their members as a main selling point. A national system would remove that advantage. Having lost many battles over such bennies more recently, unions see the writing on the wall.
Businesses as well have seen the future: unsustainable costs. And, for various reasons which I'll not get into, doctors' groups are now much more on board as well. At least with the idea that we can't go on like this.
The Congressman had interesting things to say about political psychology (my term, not his.) People like the idea of change as long as it doesn't affect them too much. They're fine with getting various things, as long as "they" don't, where "they" varies with the speaker. Poor people; immigrants; the ones over there... But with the Great Recession, people suddenly find themselves in the same boat as "they" are: jobless, desperate, and without health care coverage. He analogized to those who fought mass-transit because it would give "those people" easier access to their neighborhoods. Stuck in traffic, now, like everyone else, suddenly they're all in favor of it. In less than polite terms (not wimpy in his choice of words, he) the legislator suggested that their place is now at the back of the line.
To that, I said the obvious: well, what you say is true. But we have tea-baggers shouting in the streets against health care reform and, disproportionately in relation to their cluelessness and their numbers, Congressional Rs seem to be listening to them. Well, he said, I didn't say there'd be help from Republicans!
The meeting began with the Congressman stating that he thought Obama was very naive and inexperienced when he took office; that his lack of understanding of the legislative process led to him making promises, in terms of time required, that couldn't be kept. As he said it I thought, yeah, well, he hired Rahm Emanuel, not exactly a neophye innocent, and Joe Biden, who'd been in the Senate since Daniel Webster. I had similar thoughts as he pointed out that it took FDR two and a half years to get unemployment insurance, even though when he took office, 25% of the people were out of work: my thought was that even in his naiveté, Obama has seen the process nearly to its end in only a year...
There's an old saying comparing legislation to making sausage, claiming you don't want to know how either one works. Contrarily, the meeting made me wish I (and you, for that matter) could be a party to the process. Heavy was the implication of double dealing and capitulation and sub-rosa shenanigans: it made me want to know more. And to think we need a lot more people in Congress of strong backbone, commitment to solving problems, and mindful of why they're there. I include this guy among the good ones.
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What a great negotiator. What great deals he'll make. Asshole.