The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 33      August 31, 2009

Conservatives gain in debate
on health care amid insecurity
(front page)
Conservative forces are making gains in their effort to block President Barack Obama’s health-care “reform,” reflecting the increased insecurity and resentment, especially in middle-class layers of the population, as the economic depression grinds on.

Sharply polarized debates on the proposed health-care legislation have broken out at town hall meetings held by members of Congress around the country. A Gallup poll conducted August 6-9 found 49 percent opposed the health plan, and 43 percent approved of it.

At an August 3 town hall meeting in Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathy Sebelius were drowned out by boos.

Many opponents of the plan have charged that the reform is a cover for socialized medicine and single out in particular a “government-run insurance option.”

Obama decided to personally take to the road to defend his plan. At his August 11 town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the New York Times reported, some 2,000 people demonstrated outside, roughly half for and half against the plan. One protester chanted “Euthanize Obama!” while another carried a sign, “Euthanize Ignorance: Go Obama.” Another 1,800 were inside the meeting.

Right-wing commentators have appealed to distrust of the federal government. In his August 6 broadcast, Rush Limbaugh said, “Obama said he cared about jobs. Well, we’ve lost almost 3 million since he took office… . He has broken almost every promise he has made and everybody knows that his “No New Tax” pledge on the middle-class tax is next.”

Talk show host Bill O’Reilly stoked resentment against the uninsured, blaming them for their own lack of coverage. “The statistics show that 15 percent of Americans lack medical insurance and some of those simply would rather buy a flat screen TV than spend money on insuring their health,” he said.

Groups involved in opposing the plan include mainstream Republicans, libertarians, and rightists. They have called for a September 12 “taxpayer” march on Washington to oppose the various bills in Congress. One of the main sponsors of the action is FreedomWorks, a group headed by former House of Representatives majority leader Richard Armey.

Initially caught unawares, Democrats tried to dismiss opponents as “right-wing extremists.” House majority leader Nancy Pelosi called protesters “Astroturf,” meaning they were fake and illegitimate, and even charged some were “carrying swastikas and symbols like that.”

In fact, those speaking out at the town meetings have raised a variety of issues, not all of them “right wing.” “Why are you introducing a health-care bill with so many pages and that is so hard to understand?” asked nurse Mary Kay Gibson at a meeting in Salisbury, Maryland, with Sen. Benjamin Cardin.

Some at the town meetings are worried by proposals being raised in Congress to raise taxes to pay for the plan. Some are wary of government intrusion into their personal lives and those of their families.

Some critics of the bills are opposed to women’s right to choose abortion and some are against any form of government social services. Most appear to be from the middle class, with very few African Americans.

There were no reports of anyone at the town meetings protesting the steep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare that are part of the proposed reforms or the requirement that U.S. citizens and legal residents obtain medical insurance or face fines.

Now Democrats are backpedaling. After former Alaska governor Sarah Palin succeeded in gaining some traction for her charge that one health bill included “death panels,” drafters of the Senate bill deleted a measure for Medicare to cover doctor-patient end-of-life consultations. Obama and others closely associated with the plan are now saying the government-run insurance option could be dropped.

Top union officials are urging their members to support the Obama plan. The AFL-CIO tops charge the opposition is “stirred up by insurance companies.” But the Service Employees International Union, one of the loudest union voices for the plan, is itself in a coalition called Americans for Stable Quality Care, which includes the Federation of American Hospitals and the Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer drug giants.  
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