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Who’s trying to kill health care reform?

Joe Wilson yelling

Now that we’ve covered what’s in the plan before Congress, we figured it would be a good time to take a look at who’s trying to kill the thing and why. 

Opponents of health care generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. those who are trying to kill the entire bill, and
  2. industry groups/lobbyists who support some parts of the bill, but are fighting tooth and nail against other parts.

Perhaps surprisingly, almost all of the major stakeholders (groups representing hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, business groups, and seniors) fall into the second category- even the group being portrayed as the biggest villains in the story of health care, the insurance companies, support many of the reforms in the bill.

We’ll talk about them in our next post, but first…

People trying to kill the entire bill

The GOP
While some ideas from conservatives might actually help improve the health care reform bill in Congress, it appears that the Republicans’ strategy is just to oppose any health care reform proposed by President Obama and the Democrats.  In 1994, Bill Clinton’s failure to pass health care reform was seen as a turning point for the GOP, and it helped set the stage for the Republican takeover of Congress.  It appears that Republicans are hoping for similar results this time around.  In a conference call organized by the group Conservatives for Patients Rights back in July, South Carolina Senator Jim Demint had this to say:

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Meanwhile in August, Mike Enzi (R-WY), one of the three Republican senators working on a bipartisan reform bill in the Finance Committee’s Gang of Six, told a town hall meeting that his role in the process was basically to kill Democratic proposals. According to the Billings Gazette:

The Rev. Nicholas Voyadgis, a retired Anglican priest who touted his Republican credentials, told Enzi that while he appreciated his ability to compromise, he disliked the fact that President Barack Obama has singled out Enzi as “a Republican friend in Congress” he can work with.


It was Enzi’s duty to his constituents to terminate negotiations, the man said to loud applause.


This time, Enzi responded. “If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care,” he said.  “It’s not where I get them to compromise, it’s what I get them to leave out.”

Even though the health care reform bill has finally made it out of the Senate Finance Committee, the Republican strategy still appears to be blocking the bill no matter what’s in it.  In this video, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele first complains that Republicans didn’t get a chance to offer input- ignoring the bipartisan Finance Committee negotiations dragged on for months- and then promises to be a cow on the tracks in front of the health care reform train:

Conservatives for Patients Rights
This group calls itself “a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and informing the public about the principles of patients rights and, in doing so, advancing the debate over health care reform.”  In reality, it’s a political front group founded by a multimillionaire former CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain. We say former hospital CEO, because he was fired from his position after, as Maggie Mahar at the Century Foundation’s Health Beat blog describes it:

“The FBI swooped down on HCA hospitals in five states. Within weeks, three executives were indicted on charges of Medicare fraud, and the board had ousted Scott. The investigation revealed that the hospital chain had been bilking Medicare while simultaneously handing over kickbacks and perks to physicians who steered patients to its hospitals. … The company did not fight the charges. In 2000, HCA (which by then had expunged “Columbia” from its name) pleaded guilty to no fewer than 14 felonies. Over the next two years, it would pay a total of $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines.”

Scott has raised $20 million ($5 million of his own cash) to fight any new government involvement in health care.  The group has hired CRC Public Relations (the firm behind the infamous “Swift Boat” ads attacking John Kerry in 2004) to produce ads against health care reform.  They also set up a mailing list that included Tea Party activists and members of other conservative groups, which they used to send out alerts encouraging individuals to protest town hall meetings on health care reform this summer.


Bill Kristol

As editor of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol is an extremely influential pundit/political operative, particularly on the right.  Throughout this latest push to pass health care reform, Kristol has been urging the GOP to ignore President Obama’s call for bipartisanship.  Back in July, he had this advice for Republicans:

With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible… My advice, for what it’s worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.

By the way, if that sounds at all familiar, he’s using almost word-for-word the same suggestions he made in a memo to Republican leaders back in 1994, when Clinton was trying to pass universal health care.


Betsy McCaughey
We were tempted to not even mention Betsy McCaughey, for two reasons:

  1. We’ve been enjoying her total irrelevance in politics for the past decade.  Back in 1994, she was a major player in the health care debate.  That year, she wrote an article for the The New Republic titled “No Exit: What the Clinton Plan will do for you,” which said that the Clinton plan would make it illegal to go outside the government plan for coverage or pay doctors on your own. Talking points from the article were repeated endlessly by Republicans, who managed to kill health care reform. Turns out that McCaughey was flat out lying, but by the time the media caught on Republicans had control of Congress.  McCaughey meanwhile, after a brief political career in New York, faded into obscurity.  Or at least until now.  Lately, she’s popped back up in columns and op-eds and radio appearances and TV interviews to make up stuff about Obama’s health care reform plan.  Which bring us to point two…
  2. She lies constantly.  Kristol may be misleading and may have bad ideas, but at least his opinions have some basis in reality.  McCaughey, on the other hand, just makes things up.  For example, she was the source of the rumor that the health reform bill contains death panels for seniors.


Somehow the death panel story got picked up and she was back in the media again, but people are starting to catch onto her
routine.  She was featured in The New Republic again, but this time, the title of the article was “No Exit: The never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey,” and it had this to say about her:

Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions–and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior–that makes McCaughey so infuriating.

Or, as Gawker put it when she first started to mention death panels:

Betsy McCaughey is a professional liar. She lies. The things she writes are untrue. They are not even “distortions.” They are made-up. Everyone has known this for years and yet she was still allowed to derail the nation this month…

McCaughey’s schtick, as described by James Fallows, is to pose as a disinterested, objective researcher who is just shocked and dismayed to find something insane and evil in a piece of legislation supported by a Democratic president.  And then she sits down to write a very serious and nonpartisan and concerned piece of analysis of this evil thing in the legislation that she made up. And then some respectable outlet publishes her serious analysis. And then, within minutes, partisan Republican columnists, talk radio hosts, politicians, and operatives are disseminating talking points taken directly from that serious piece of entirely made-up bullshit analysis.

Or as Representative Anthony Weiner put it in a recent debate with McCaughey (via Wonkette):

Actually, we take back what we said earlier.  We’re kind of starting to enjoy all the talk about Betsy McCaughey.

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