Palin, Pelosi & the politics of scorn

Much ado is being made over two lady politicos these days, Sarah Palin for her six-figure fees and Nancy Pelosi for her legislative expertise. Both are commendable — depending on how one chooses to commend — but unfortunately they are continuing to feed the politics of scorn. Which is unlikely to lead to bi-partisanship or collegiality any time soon. Maybe both are dead.

Palin’s usefulness to her party is a matter of dispute. According to two prominent speakers at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor (as reported by Monitor writer Dave Cook), Palin’s rise is great good news for the Democrats.

“Look at this dynamic that is produced with Sarah Palin,” said Stanley Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “You have John McCain having to have Sarah Palin to save him [in a primary election race]…”

In the aftermath of the passage of healthcare reform, the ongoing discussion is “Barack Obama against Sarah Palin on healthcare,” he said.

Mr. Greenberg, who served as President Clinton’s pollster, argued that “The face of the Republican Party to the country is not the ‘tea party,’ it is Sarah Palin.”

James Carville, President Clinton’s campaign manager and the other speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast, suggested a test to the assembled journalists. “Do me favor. Call five Democratic consultants and leave a message and say I am doing a story on Sarah Palin and call five Republicans, and see who returns the phone call. I think we all know the answer to that. The Democrats will be on the phone so fast.”

Much as some of us do not admire Sarah Palin, the sneer factor employed by her detractors can be oppressive. (Come on, if you’re an anti-Palin, think of the slurs you have slung her way.) She is, herself, a master of derision in a by-golly sort of fashion, and it is this that brings loud huzzahs from her audiences when she takes on the Democrats.

Not to be outdone, Speaker Pelosi (whom I appreciate and respect) was heaping scorn upon the Republicans in speeches to California audiences this week,

… saying they “have nothing to sell” to the American people except a crude caricature of her as the midterm elections approach.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was surrounded at the Phillip and Sala Burton Center by ardent advocates of health reform, who cheered when she was cheerful and roared when she was defiant. And she was proudly defiant.

“I couldn’t care less,” she said of GOP efforts to use her as campaign fundraising bait. “I should be thanking them. … It really helps me with my fundraising.”

The issues are real, and occasionally that is made clear:

“This is a bill about the middle class. This is a bill about small businesses. This is a bill about affordability,” Pelosi said.

Still, Pelosi warned Democrats that the fight isn’t over, saying Republicans “are unabashed in wanting to rid us of this … and one way they think they can do it is by making gross misrepresentations to senior citizens” with what she called a “campaign of fear.”

Appearing before a crowd dominated by seniors carrying signs of appreciation – “Thank you, madame speaker” – Pelosi was lauded by a parade of admirers, including Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, doctors and senior advocates who praised her tireless push for the measure.

Admittedly, Pelosi was in friendly territory this week, as Palin has been in recent days herself.

Palin last weekend put Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the center of her campaign-style speech to Tea Partiers attending a rally in Searchlight, Nev., Reid’s hometown. “You’re fired,” she said of the two Democratic standard-bearers.

This may be the way politics works. But wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally, some way could be found for opposing sides at least to be civil in the interest of the common good.

Defiant Pelosi scorns Republicans.

Health reform: a start

Victory finally came, but only for those who were hanging onto the shreds of earlier wishes, and it wasn’t ever pretty. Watching C-SPAN on Sunday, in fact, was a little like watching grass grow, with every other blade sniping at the blade just around the corner. But at least that much is over.

Congress gave final approval on Sunday to legislation that would provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and remake the nation’s health care system along the lines proposed by President Obama.

By a vote of 219 to 212, the House passed the bill after a day of tumultuous debate that echoed the epic struggle of the last year. The action sent the bill to President Obama, whose crusade for such legislation has been a hallmark of his presidency.

“This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform,” Mr. Obama said after the vote. “This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.”

Minutes after thebill was approved, the House passed a package of changes to it and sent it to the Senate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has promised House Democrats that the Senate would quickly take up the reconciliation bill with the changes in it, and that he had secured the votes to pass it.

But while the Senate is bracing for a fierce floor fight over the reconciliation measure, the landscape was permanently altered by passage of the original Senate bill. Should the reconciliation bill, which cannot be filibustered, collapse for any reason, the core components of the Democrats’ health care overhaul would move forward. Indeed, Senate Republicans were quickly faced with a need to recalibrate their message from one aimed at stopping the legislation to one focused on winning back a sufficient number of seats in Congress to repeal it.

It was mean and divisive and ugly, and will surely get more so, but at least it’s a start. We can finally begin to reform what is a cruel and unworkable system. And maybe, just maybe, there will some day be access to health care for all. Does anyone remember when there was no Social Security or Medicare?

House Approves Health Overhaul, Sending Landmark Bill to Obama – NYTimes.com.

Health care reform: comatose but breathing

Virginia Governor McDonnell, who proclaimed in his rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address that we have “the best medical system in the world” has my qualified agreement on one point. My personal medical system is the best in the world. As a member of Kaiser Permanente, I consider my physicians among the best in the world and my care right up there. I can e-mail any of my physicians with any question; most of them reply in 24 hours or less. I can schedule appointments with specialists with ease; usually I see anyone I want within a few weeks. Medicare helps me pay for all this.

Problem is, not everyone in America enjoys such care at such cost. Millions of my fellow Americans – who might not agree with Governor McDonnell – would be happy for any kind of medical care at any remotely affordable cost. Millions of Americans are suffering and dying for lack of care. Maybe, to correct this, I’ll have to settle for just moderately excellent care rather than the best. So be it. Maybe my costs would go up. So be it. It is morally wrong for people in this country to be without health care.

(In a recent comment on this page written very late at night I attributed Governor McDonnell’s interesting phrase to former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Even before my astute True/Slant editors had caught the gaffe an astute reader had brought my attention to it. After I thanked him, Astute Reader replied, “Virginia might be better off if you did give it back to Tim Kaine.” We’ll see.)

But back to health care. Although it has faded slightly into the background, word is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are still hoping to salvage the sprawling bill. It could be done, if the Senate bill’s sprawl. As Noam Levey reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times,

(I)n the coming weeks, Pelosi and Reid hope to rally House Democrats behind the healthcare bill passed by the Senate while simultaneously trying persuade Senate Democrats to approve a series of changes to the legislation using budget procedures that bar filibusters.

At the same time, leading consumer groups, doctors and labor unions that have backed the healthcare legislative effort for more than a year are stepping up attempts to stiffen lawmakers’ resolve.

These included scaling back the Cadillac tax, boosting aid to help low- and moderate-income Americans buy insurance, closing the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug plan, and giving all states the assistance that Nebraska secured to expand Medicaid.

But many House Democrats do not want to vote on the Senate bill until the Senate passes the fixes they want. And it is unclear whether the Senate could approve a package of changes to its bill before the House approves the underlying legislation, according to senior Democratic aides. Democratic leaders hope to agree on a procedural path forward by the end of this week.

Despite the hurdles, there is a growing consensus that a modified Senate bill may offer the best hope for enacting a healthcare overhaul.

“The more they think about it, the more they can appreciate that it may be a viable . . . vehicle for getting healthcare reform done,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), president of the Democratic freshman class in the House.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate health committee, noted that even before the Massachusetts election, senior Democrats had substantially agreed on a series of compromises that addressed differences between the House and Senate healthcare bills.

This space still hopes that “the best medical system in the world” can be made available to a few of the millions in America who still so desperately need it.

Health Bill Should not Pit Women against Seniors

The health care issue is, one would think, too important for partisan games pitting one group against another. Especially when huge portions of each group are one and the same. But as Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn report in today’s New York Times, that seems to be happening.

In a day of desultory debate on sweeping health care legislation, senators appealed to two potent political constituencies on Tuesday, with Democrats seeking additional medical benefits for women and Republicans vowing to preserve and protect Medicare for older Americans.

The Democrats’ first amendment, offered by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, would require insurers to cover more screenings and preventive care for women, with no co-payments.

‘Women often forgo those critical preventive screenings because they simply cannot afford it, or their insurance company won’t pay for it unless it is mandated by state law,’ Ms. Mikulski said.

I met with my oncologist two days ago and decided to have a mammogram. It’s been two years since the last one. She and I agree that, having had breast cancer in 2006 and breezed through a mastectomy, and being fit and healthy overall, my particular situation suggests the potential benefits — catch another cancer early, gain another good decade or so of life — outweigh the risks.  This is what the whole thing is about: every woman is different, every woman should be allowed to decide, with her doctor, on screening and preventive care. The Mikulski amendment will insure that can happen, whatever one’s age and circumstances.

The first Republican proposal, offered by Senator John McCain of Arizona, would strip the bill of more than $450 billion of proposed savings in Medicare. The savings would curb the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations and other providers of care.

‘The cuts are not attainable,’ Mr. McCain said. ‘And if they were, it would mean a direct curtailment and reduction in the benefits we have promised to senior citizens.’

Senators said that debate on the bill, which embodies President Obama’s top domestic priority, would last for several weeks and perhaps continue into January. A vote on Ms. Mikulski’s amendment has not been scheduled but could come Wednesday.

The health care bill would require most Americans to carry insurance. It would subsidize coverage for people with moderate incomes, expand Medicaid and create a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers. The House passed a similar bill last month.

Ms. Mikulski’s proposal was prompted, in part, by the recent furor over new recommendations from a federal task force that breast cancer screenings begin later for many women.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, hailed Ms. Mikulski’s proposal, saying: ‘The decision whether or when to get a mammogram should be left up to the patient and the doctor. That decision should not be made by some bureaucrat, a member of Congress or someone they’ve never met.’

As health costs and insurance premiums rise, Mr. Reid said, ‘more women are skipping screenings for cervical and breast cancer, and doctor visits that can catch problems like postpartum depression and domestic violence.’

Votes on the Mikulski amendment will show whether Republicans “truly want to improve this bill or just want to play games, stall,” Mr. Reid said.

Ms. Mikulski said her proposal would ‘shrink or eliminate the high cost of co-payments and deductibles’ for women who receive screenings for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, criticized the proposal, saying it would ‘allow yet another government agency to interfere in the relationship between a woman and her doctor.’

No, Senator Hutchison, the government isn’t interfering in my relationship with my doctor, nor will it do so by insuring other women’s choices and coverage.

Republicans argued that the bill would be paid for on the backs of older Americans.

‘We are receiving incredible and overwhelming response from seniors all over America,’ Mr. McCain said. ‘They paid all their working lives into the Medicare trust fund, and now they’re in danger of having $483 billion cut out of it.’

Mr. McCain’s proposal would effectively cripple the bill, because Democrats are relying on savings in Medicare to help offset the cost of providing coverage to more than 30 million people who are now uninsured.

This senior would like to add a word to that “overwhelming response” Mr. McCain reports. I paid all my working life into Medicare (which, by the way, was not exactly a gift to America from the Republican party) and I want a decent health bill more than I want every penny of my Medicare coverage protected.

A lot of us have come to terms with the fact that the health bill we may get is a long way from the health bill we so fervently wanted. We are still hoping that something survives the attempts to sink it at any cost.

Senators Pitch to Women and Elderly on Health Bill – NYTimes.com.

Will Anti-Abortionists Sink Health Reform?

Already the right wing, Catholic officialdom and Sarah Palin have won their battle to make sure that I, and countless other millions, will likely die only after expensive, prolonged, futile, aggressive, undesirable treatment rather than peacefully at home as I choose. Now they want the generations younger to be sure that any accidental, criminal or otherwise unplanned pregnancy results in another unwanted child coming into this overpopulated world. An assault on health reform is their latest battleground. I am careful to say Catholic officialdom, because all of the lay Catholics I know, many of them Good Catholics, support both reproductive and end-of-life choice. I am careful to mention Sarah Palin just to prove I have absolutely no resentment over the fact that whereas I can’t interest publishers in my several excellent book projects, she has a planned first run of 1.5 million on her dashed-off memoir.

But back to the problem at hand. Writing in Tuesday’s New York Times, David Kirkpatrick presents the new scary problem:

As if it were not complicated enough, the debate over health care in Congress is becoming a battlefield in the fight over abortion.

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions.

Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up. Nearly half of those with employer-sponsored health plans now have policies that cover abortion, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Never mind that Obama has promised that no federal funds will go for elective abortions, and the current policies would remain unchanged, here is a handy opportunity to make points with conservatives and throw a monkey wrench into the works of reform.

Lawmakers pushing the abortion restrictions say they feel the momentum is on their side, especially because the restlessness of other Democratic moderates is making every vote count.At least 31 House Democrats have signed various recent letters to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, urging her to allow a vote on a measure to restrict use of the subsidies to pay for abortion, including 25 who joined more than 100 Republicans on a letter delivered Monday.

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, a leading Democratic abortion opponent, said he had commitments from 40 Democrats to block the health care bill unless they have a chance to include the restrictions.

So it’s all about halting abortion — maybe — or all about halting reform — maybe — but some of us who simply, desperately, wish better care and a few decent options for our less-advantaged citizens are left to wonder what it’s really all about.

Abortion Fight Complicates Debate on Health Care – Readers’ Comments – NYTimes.com.