Tag Archives: healthcare reform

Obama Address Congress on Healthcare – Can He Still Win?

President Obama goes for all the marbles next Wednesday when he addresses a joint session of Congress of healthcare reform. At this point, he might as well swing for the fences. Changing the nation’s healthcare system for the better is, like it or not, the defining issue of his presidency. Polls indicate the nation isn’t all that happy with the way he’s handled things thus far, but the game isn’t over yet. I’m using a few sports metaphors on purpose here. That’s because for the president’s opposition, healthcare has become a high stakes game of chicken.

Look for a moment at the duplicity of Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. For months now, Grassley has been dangling the hope of bipartisan compromise on reform. He is, after all, the ranking Republican member of the Finance Committee, and part of the “Gang of Six” that were in talks to get something done. He’d even been to the White House three times to meet with the president. Then came August, and the rancorous town hall meetings across the country. Grassley’s commitment to bipartisanship seems to have ended right there. Compare for yourself.

Grassley in April: “Health care not only is 16% of the gross national product, but it touches the quality of life of every household as few others do. I’m doing everything I can to make the reform effort in Congress a bipartisan one.”

Grassley in an August fund raising letter: “The simple truth is that I am and always have been opposed to the Obama Administration’s plans to nationalize health care. Period.”

So much for playing nice. And now it looks like Obama has at least in part learned his lesson. Instead of negotiating with Grassley, he’s talking to Maine’s Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, probably a better choice to begin with. And it looks like he’ll press forward with his vision of healthcare reform not just to members of Congress, but to the American people as well. This makes sense, since recent polls say most folks in fact support a public option as part of reform.

It may not be the single payer, universal plan that I personally favor, but it’s better than the status quo some lawmakers are advocating. And of course, when you look at where some of these people get their campaign contributions from, the real reason for their opposition becomes clear.

What exactly the president will say to Congress is anybody’s guess, since we’re just under a week away from the address. If he asked my opinion (and he hasn’t), I’d say it’s time for one of those inspirational speeches like the ones he gave so well during the campaign. You can win this battle, Mr. President. Just don’t make this speech a mind numbing recitation of statistics and numbers. Bring fire, Barack Obama! The stakes are high.

What do you think. Can President Obama still win the healthcare reform battle?

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Remembering Ted Kennedy. Will Last Lion have Last Laugh?

My most vivid memory of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy wasn’t the tumultuous reception he received at last year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver. Although to say he received a hero’s welcome would be the height of understatement. No, my memory goes back three decades earlier.

I was covering a rally to keep a hospital in Harlem open. It was 1977, and New York City was still trying to cope with a mammoth budget gap. Cops and teachers were being laid off, and a place called Sydenham Hospital was scheduled for closure. Normally, this was the kind of issue that attracted local politicians and health activists. But as I walked toward the hospital, I sensed something different. The crowd was larger than normal for a hot summer day. It was also louder.

I asked someone what brought all these people out, and she turned and said, “Haven’t you heard? Teddy Kennedy is here!” Those words alone were magic. There was always something about the relationship between black America and this family that was a close to royalty as you’d find in this country.

The Kennedys
The Kennedys

After all, it was Bobby Kennedy who walked the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant back in the late ’60s, and from that walk, Bed Stuy Restoration was born.

Bob Kennedy in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Bob Kennedy in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

And here was his kid brother, walking to the podium on the back of a flatbed truck. Ted Kennedy unleashed a torrent of words that day. I wish I still had the tape of his remarks.

I do remember he was one of the earliest politicians to link shortened black longevity to a lack of affordable healthcare. “We are going to fight to keep this hospital open”, he thundered, and the crowd believed his every word.

Years later, Sydenham is a health clinic, not a full blown hospital. But were it not for Ted Kennedy and the people of Harlem who fought that battle back in ’77, Sydenham would be little more than a memory.

And now, the Lion of the Senate has left us, left us to fight his last battle. That would be the battle for healthcare for all Americans. Unlike so many others, Ted Kennedy believed that poor and working people ought to have access to the same quality of care he had.

In the end, that’s what made him different, different 30 years ago, and different until the day he died. Ted Kennedy believed part of being American was wanting the best for all Americans. And so his passing should steel the resolve of those who believe the battle for affordable healthcare is a battle that must be won.

You tell me . Will healthcare reform be a part of Ted Kennedy’s legacy?

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Is Torture Probe Risk For Obama’s healthcare plan?

That’s how some media are describing the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special prosecutor to look into CIA prisoner abuse cases. There are worries the fallout from Holder’s decision could distract attention from President Barack Obama’s continuing efforts to reform the healthcare system.

Eric Holder, President Obama
Eric Holder, President Obama

Why one would have anything to do with the other is for bigger media minds than mine. The Attorney General’s decision seems perfectly rational, and in fact the only thing he could do after new details emerged about “enhanced” interrogation techniques used after September 11th. President Obama is also correct in leaving the decision about what to do in Holder’s hands.

The AG acknowledged his decision would be controversial, but after all, that’s why he’s making the big money, isn’t it? The question now is whether those who have wanted accountability for torture during the Bush years will stand behind Holder as he takes flack for naming career prosecutor John Durham to head up this investigation.

As we’ve seen with healthcare, silence on the part of one side gives the other free rein to control the debate in the court of public opinion. And what will they say? Obama doesn’t care about national security, that he’s undermining morale at the CIA, that these allegations are old news.

And who will lead the charge? Could it be the Darth Vader of Bush era interrogation, Dick Cheney? They’ll trot him out, for sure. In fact, they won’t need to. He’ll start magically appearing on the Sunday talk shows again, and accuse the Obama Administration of offering aid and comfort to America’s enemies.

It’s all so predictable.

What can’t be predicted is whether those who side with justice on the issue of torture will be proactive, or just watch the firestorm from a distance. Let’s be clear. There is no excuse for linking healthcare to investigating torture.

Those who do so ought to be called on it immediately.

Progressives in this country don’t know their own strength. If seeing to it that suspects America detains in the future aren’t subjected to “enhanced” interrogation is important, get behind Holder and Obama. And then, push for the investigation to include not just the grunts who carried out these activities, but those who ordered them to do so, or looked the other way while it was happening.

None of this has the least little bit to do with keeping America safe. It’s about keeping America America.

What do you think? Is probing torture risky for President Obama’s healthcare reform?

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