Category Archives: Politics and Health

Rangel – The Lion of Harlem Runs Again!

I don’t exactly remember the first time I met Rep. Charles Rangel. I do know his career in Congress and mine in radio have slightly overlapped. He was serving his second term when I began my radio career in 1973.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve interviewed him, through good times and bad for both of us. I’ve admired his work in the House of Representatives, and said so. I also said so when I thought he was getting the shaft, which he did more than once.

And so it was on Thursday, December 19th, that Charles Rangel announced he was running for a 23rd term in Congress. I for one was happy to hear it.

Charles Rangel

Charles Rangel has faced some formidable opponents in his time, including the person he first beat back in 1970. Last time around, in 2012, a state senator from Upper Manhattan came dangerously close to defeating the Lion of Harlem. That bid fell short.

The senator, Adriano Espaillat, has broadly hinted he’ll make another run. At least two Harlem clergy people have been the subject of media reports saying they may run. At his announcement news conference Thursday, none of this seemed to faze Charles Rangel (I can’t call him Charlie, not even in print). When asked about opposition, he said he was unconcerned about any opponent.

Through the years, I’ve heard quite a bit of criticism of Charles Rangel. I’ve been criticized for defending him, mostly by callers to my radio programs that never lived in his district. In fact, I was part of an effort to show citywide support for the congressman when the House Ethics Committee was breathing down his neck. There was a rally for him at City Hall, organized by my friends Ken Sunshine and the late Bill Lynch. As we waited for the rally to officially start, a member of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration walked by, on his way inside City Hall. I heard him say to Bill, “You do know Charlie Rangel brings about a half billion dollars in federal money to the city each year, don’t you?” Bill smiled, because he knew. My jaw dropped because I didn’t.

Critics will often ask “What has Rangel done for Harlem?” It may not be obvious, and hasn’t been all that obvious to me, even though I walk through the neighborhood regularly. I can think back 40 years, to the Harlem I work in when starting my radio life. I remember Sylvia’s when it was just a lunch counter, and the Chinese restaurant that stood where Sylvia’s Also is today (the old heads told me that Ho Chi Minh worked there was a college student back in the ’20s).

Yet when someone asks what Rangel has done for Harlem, it’s not about buildings or artifacts. It’s about people. Walking across 125th St. on this unusually balmy Thursday in December, I was struck by the number of middle aged and older black folks who still call the street home. Yes, there’s been gentrification, and the displacement it causes, but there are still vendors, and people walking along the street I’ve seen for decades. They still call Harlem home in large measure because Charles Rangel has looked out for them.

Charles Rangel shops Harlem

He hasn’t been able to beat back all market forces in the neighborhood, but he’s kept the community affordable for enough folks that Harlem still has its unique pulse and rhythm. You know, that which is created by people.

And so, Charles Rangel runs again. He’s not just running in Harlem this time. He’s got a good sliver of the Bronx that he’ll have to convince that he’s still the best man for the job.

I wouldn’t bet against him.

Would love to know your views…

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President Obama “I’m not perfect”

So President Obama made the best of a bad situation regarding the Affordable Care Act. He’s allowing the insurance industry to extend existing health plans for a year. This applies to individual and small group markets. In doing so, the president tried to stop the bleeding that stems from being seen as not telling the truth when he said people who liked their plans could keep them.

cartoon-public-option-clear

A CBS News tally says nearly five million people across the country are being dropped from insurance plans by the industry, not by the president. People need to be clear that these dropped plans are essentially failures, since many don’t meet basic mandates for things like maternity care, emergency room visits (quite expensive, these), and mental health treatment.

President Obama is up against a political buzzsaw here, and only part of it was of his making. The botched rollout of the government Website, combined with the perception that he went back on his word made Obamacare a four letter word in the minds of many. The other problem is this. If people have a cheap insurance plan and don’t use it, they like it. After all, it’s a small amount of money, and many people, especially younger folks, don’t worry about getting sick.

The firestorm all this has created is amazing, given that we’re only talking about 5% of all Americans in the individual market in the first place. But you know what they say about the squeaky wheel…..

I know he couldn’t do this, but I would have loved to see Barack Obama double down on this existing plan thing. What better time to say to the insurance companies that if they’re going to cancel policies (and be clear, they didn’t have to), the government would provide insurance for those affected. If the CBS tally of 4.8 million cancellations is correct, that makes a great base for a PUBLIC OPTION.

Yeah I know he can’t do it. But don’t you wish he would?

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Does the Senate Have the Guts to Pass Healthcare Reform?

This past weekend’s vote to begin debate in the upper House was heartening, but anyone who follows politics knows it’s the first skirmish in a long battle. Credit ought to be given to Majority Leader Harry Reid for having the guts to see the first step through.

I have been critical of his leadership in the past, but I take it all back (can you do that in one post?). Harry Reid came through like a champ, not like some of his colleagues, and I’m not talking about Republicans. You don’t expect them to have any heart when it comes to providing quality affordable care to millions of Americans for whom that’s just a pipe dream now.

senator-harry-reid

I’m talking about  a few Senate Democrats, and that independent who dares to caucus with them. Joe Lieberman should have been tossed out on his ear the day he addressd the Republican National Convention on behalf of John McCain. Now he couldn’t wait until the last echoes of Saturday’s vote to allow debate to go on tv and try to eviscerate the public option. “If the public option is still in there, the only resort we have is to say no at the end to reporting the bill off the floor,” says the Senator from Connecticut. Ben Nelson of Nebraska isn’t much better.

What they’re saying is the next step, after a lot of contentious debate, may be for opponents of the bill to filibuster.  At that point, the only recourse may be the complex and misunderstood procress of reconciliation. Trust me, it’s not nearly as benign as it sounds. Suffice to say that’s how Bush got his two tax cuts through, but would it work for healthcare reform?

Reconciliation is about the only way you can get a bill through the Senate without the 60 votes necessary to bring it to the floor. That is, bypassing the usual obstructive devices, like the filibuster. The jury is still out of whether the health bill fits the criteria necessary to be eligible for reconciliation. Absent that, Harry Reid will have to find a couple of Republicans who will go along with the overwhelming majority of Democrats to get this thing done.

This is usually the cue for political junkies to look to the two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Snowe, however, has as big a problem with the public option as Lieberman does. Make no mistake. A bill without a public option isn’t acceptable, nor should it be to President Obama (we’ll see).

So you tell me. Does this Senate have the guts to pass a healthcare reform bill with a public option?

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