Thursday, March 15, 2012



I believe all Americans (and for humanitarian reasons all non-citizens residing in our country legally or not) are entitled to and should be granted universal access to affordable and high quality health care promised by the inalienable right named as “the pursuit of happiness” in the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE and to “promote the General Welfare” as promised in the Preamble of the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.

Accordingly I believe Congress can constitutionally exercise the power granted to them under Section 8 and pass National Health Care Legislation.

However when they passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, though I supported some of the provisions therein and still believe we need a form of national health care covering all, it is now apparent the problems and potential flaws I outlined in the articles below* have only grown worse and parts of this flawed law threaten our Constitutional freedoms and violates the Natural Moral Law that served as the very foundation for our DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE.

The more we learn about this hastily passed and poorly constructed collection of bureaucratic regulations, unfunded mandates, and unprecedented federal infringement on personal and religious freedom there is no other recourse but to repeal it and replace it with a more efficient, just and financially sustainable program.

Besides its aforementioned deficiencies, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has no realistic or secure funding mechanism and threatens the financial integrity of Medicare, the healthcare of our heroic veterans, and the National Budget. It could literally bankrupt our nation.

It gives me no pleasure to suggest this action and we should insist that both parties commit to work for a viable program with a secure funding mechanism, but when the cure is worse than the disease it is insane and harmful to use it.

President Obama could show great leadership by admitting this failure, demand its repeal, and call for a program to cover the uninsured; improve healthcare for children, seniors, and veterans; help small businesses cover their employees; reduce pharmaceutical costs (there should be no reason for the price of the exact same drug to be greater in Detroit than in Canada or Mexico); encourage preventive medicine; ensure portability; and keep the popular, common sense and bipartisan supported elements of his current plan.

If Republican’s give the President trouble he should offer them President Nixon’s 1974 Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (C.H.I.P.) as a framework.  If Teddy Kennedy would have embraced it we would be enjoying our fourth decade of national health care.

Sure it’s a political risk to admit mistakes, tell the truth, and try to make things better but isn’t that the hope and change Americans expected from this President. Repeal and heal may become the central theme of the 2012 general election, one way or another!


*Monday, May 10, 2010


With the rhetorical flair of FDR and the legislative muscle of LBJ, President Obama obtained what none of his predecessors could--- the passage of National Health Care legislation, the aptly named Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Love it or hate it was a monumental victory for the President and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi now elevated to the level of Congressional legends Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill. History will remember forever the high drama! Tea Party members and other opponents stormed Washington and surrounded the Capital in protest. Seizing an obvious public relations coup, Madame Speaker played the angry protestors like a violin. With a knowing smile she led Democratic House Members, parting the angry crowd into the Capitol carrying a gigantic gavel of justice like a judge leading a jury through a mob. Visceral reactions and hurled epithets, proven or not, changed the health care debate at that moment into a civil rights issue.

President Obama put a key foreign trip on hold to stay home and lobby uncertain Democrats while shoring up others. Republicans held like Stonewall Jackson in solid opposition to the health care legislation warning of Armageddon while seemingly relishing being branded as the party of No, though a sarcastic Conservative friend of mine tagged we Democrats as the party of Knowing Better. The stage was set. The House of Representatives had to pass the Senate Bill with the promise the Senate would fix a number of offense able items through the filibuster proof Reconciliation Process. Speaker Pelosi and the President needed 216 Democratic votes to pass the bill. They had no Republicans. 


It was Sunday, March 21 and hard core political junkies flipped the remote between March Madness and C-Span not sure which was more exciting. Usually Tom Izzo would be the dominant UPer at this point on the calendar but that day all eyes were focused on the Congressman from Menominee, Michigan –Bart Stupak. 

His hometown bears the name of a Native American tribe, but also shares the name with a Great Lakes whitefish variety know for being a delicacy yet extremely hard for anglers to catch since their delicate mouths break after being hooked. Menominee are bottom feeders rarely coming into the shallows and are usually caught commercially in nets. 

For nearly two decades Stupak represented Michigan’s First Congressional District one of the largest geographically in the nation consisting of the Upper Peninsula and the very northernmost part of the lower one. A former state trooper known for his hard work and integrity Stupak reflected the views of his constituency continually defeating opponents by large margins. Speaking with the clipped style of the UPer, Bart was a low-key member of Congress known most for public safety and Great Lakes issues and serving on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. In most cases Stupak was a reliable Democrat vote on core party issues. Since his first day in office he had supported health care reform. He also supported pro-life values from the womb to the tomb and in fact was a leader of pro-life Democrats in Congress. Suddenly two issues he felt strongly about seemed to be competing with each other. 

For years a law known as the Hyde Amendment had prevention US tax dollars from being used for abortions. When the House first passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Bart had led a group of Democratic legislators called the Stupak 12 and held up passage of the bill until strong language was placed in preserving the intent of the Hyde Amendment. Lacking the votes to move the legislation out of the House without Stupak and company’s support, Speaker Pelosi accepted his language and moved it on to the Senate with Bart’s support. That was in November of last year. 

For those just walking into the middle of this movie, Hapless Harry Reid and his 60 vote majority managed to almost kill health care with incompetence and sheer stupidity. 

To be filled in on that soap opera read A Clunker Full of Cash, my column on the disaster from February’s Issue. The Senate passed their version on Christmas Eve and then all hell broke loose against the bill. Republican Scott Brown won Teddy Kennedy’s seat and it looked like things were finished with the momentum going in the opposite direction, but Nancy Pelosi and the President decided to go for broke by deciding to have the House concur without changing the Senate Bill and then fix it in the Senate through Reconciliation. 

In American politics few leaders have charged ahead against such odds. Oh, did I mention the polls were all running against the health care bill. Yet President Obama and the Speaker rolled up their sleeves and started securing votes. Two hundred and sixteen Democrats was the magic number. 

One big obstacle stood in their way, Bart Stupak and his dozen of supporters. The Senate had weakened the Stupak language on abortion and the Congressman from Michigan would not agree to support the bill without it. Tough as the iron range in his district, on this matter Stupak would not yield. 

In the UP it was said Bart had Sisu like the Finns he represented. Look it up it will explain a lot. 

The eyes of the nation were focused on the Man from Menominee and he wouldn’t flinch. For different reasons he became the man for all seasons. Reviled by some and revered by others cable news constantly carried interviews with the soft spoken silver haired Stupak. The refrain was the same, “I want to pass health care but I will not support federal tax dollars subsiding abortions.” Nancy Pelosi is staunchly pro-choice but not once did she or the President defame or denounce Mr. Stupak. The Speaker is alleged to have even convened a meeting with pro-choice Democrats testing the water for accepting the Stupak language or seeing if common ground could be found. 

Not able to go through him they went around him as best they could. The Stupak 12 were being peeled off. Long time pro-lifers Jim Oberstar and Marcy Kaptur announced they felt the Senate language against abortion was sufficient protection against tax payer abortions and they would vote for passage. Stupak’s own Michigan colleague the pro-life champion Dale Kildee announced his support of the bill ironically after consulting with Cardinal Wolsey, I mean his parish priest. Still Stupak stood strong as his supporters dwindled, yet he still held enough to prevent passage without his language being accepted. Dan Lipinski of Illinois stood with him and the magic number could not be reached. Then the Sunday vote came. Bart said he wanted to find an agreement and offered compromises, there were counter offers and yet no agreement. Remotes flipped tournament, Congress, tournament, Congress, news channels, tournament, Congress, carpal tunnel. Suddenly it was announced Stupak and Lipinski were huddled on the House floor. President Obama was working the phones while the Speaker did her magic. Finally word came out there was an agreement reached and Stupak would support passage. 

What was the compromise? President Obama had assured Mr. Stupak he would issue an executive order prohibiting taxpayers’ funds being used for abortion. To each side of the abortion debate Bart Stupak turned from hero to villain depending on your point of view on the issue. The Congressman wanting healthcare for all citizens while preserving his pro-life values seemed satisfied. 

Yet what of Lipinski and the others, would they vote for it? Lipinski would not yield, the others might. It appeared the compromise angered both sides of the abortion debate, often the sign of a well done agreement. Finally though, it looked like health care would pass. Stupak lionized earlier by some as a 21st century Thomas More was condemned instead as a modern Duke of Norfolk. Lipinski took his place. Imagine their floor conversation? Allow me to try paraphrasing and quoting from Robert Bolt’s Oscar winning script, A Man for All Seasons. Stupak/Norfolk: “Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the abortion language is sufficient or not but dammit, Dan, look at these names! We all need to support this bill. Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!” Lipinski/More: “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?” Those lines always chill me to the bone as a call to conscience.

I've veered into fantasy, but the conversation between the two must have been interesting to say the least. Stupak endorsed the bill and 219 Democrats voted for history while Lipinski and 31 other Democrats joined every single Republican in opposition. Oh, yeah to top it off Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer yelled baby killer at Bart as he delivered his floor speech. 

Onward to the Senate went the critical legislation where Harry Reid then remarkably did his part well and shepherded the agreed changes through a reconciliation bill which then was concurred by the House. President Barack Obama signed it making good on his pledge and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law. He also signed an executive order banning taxpayer funding for abortions behind closed doors with a small group including Bart Stupak. The obstacle became the hero of health care or the villain to its opponents. Tea Party members marked him for defeat as did enraged Republicans. Conservative commentators and talk show hosts pronounced him public enemy number one. They said he caved under pressure. Legal scholars said an executive order is only good until a President rescinds it or a court nullifies it. Some claimed Bart was taken in and the health care law itself trumps the order. Representative Stupak responded in a phone call to Mitch Albom on WJR, “The greatest executive order ever issued was the Emancipation Proclamation. This is an executive order that will protect the sanctity of life.”

 But the debate raged on and several weeks later the Congressman from Menominee announced his retirement. “I have spent more than 30 years in public service as a police officer in Escanaba, a Michigan State Police Trooper, a State Representative and now a United States Congressman. My service to the people of Michigan has been the greatest honor of my life. But, it is time to begin a new chapter…I will always serve the people of the First District, but have chosen not to do so as their Congressman.” That was it. Mr. Stupak was leaving Washington after accomplishing health care reform something he set out 18 years ago to do. Tea party supporters claimed victory for driving him from office as did Republicans, that awesome force never able to come close to defeating him. Pundits wrote him off and commentators either praised or vilified him. Yet, the majority of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised him for his work. What’s the truth? We may never know. Maybe he was fed up. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he lost something in himself, or maybe we should just take him at his word. So Stupak goes and health care is here. 

Why did I spend so much time on a single Member of Congress’ role in this drama? Because it was historic and brought principled stands into a complex issue. Stupak embodied the debate and President Obama and Speaker Pelosi would not have this victory without him. 

As for the bill itself, key provisions are outlined some have said it is not as great as its proponents claim and it is not as bad as its detractors pronounce it to be. However it will probably be a decisive factor in the November elections. To its merits, 32 million people currently uninsured will now be covered, giving 94% of Americans health care insurance. That is no small thing and this is one victory I don’t think will ever be repealed. Other elements of the law may be replaced or removed but this provision, and other key ones such as ending pre-existing condition discrimination, filling the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, and allowing parents to keep their young adult children on their insurance are so just and appealing to the citizens they won’t allow them to be taken away. 

The Congressional Budget Office asserts this legislation will reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years, with $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction in the following 10 years. I pray they are right. We are running out of money and our debt is growing which concerns me deeply. I believe this debate over health care is far from over, but both sides need to drop caricatures and demonization. We should be able to have a civil, educated debate on the merits. 

I was an ardent supporter of health care reform but I have concerns about this bill. It is however a foundation from which to build upon. Let’s do so and make our nation better. Allow me to end with two more quotes from Robert Bolt’s seminal masterpiece delivered adroitly by his Sir Thomas More. “I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” And letting the great man speak for me, “I trust I make myself obscure.”

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Clunker Full of Cash

Health care costs continue to skyrocket threatening the financial stability of our families, our businesses, and indeed our very country. Unpaid medical bills are one of the main forces spurring record numbers of personal bankruptcies. Millions of uninsured Americans, self ration their healthcare and roll the dice with their very lives every day avoiding needed health care because they cannot afford insurance or are prevented from obtaining coverage because of preexisting conditions.

Many have jobs but no benefits and can’t afford health coverage on their own. Businesses are dropping coverage for employees. Emergency treatment for the uninsured drives up the price of health care while hurting providers pass the cost on to insurance companies and they pass the cost on to consumers through rising premiums. Medicare is facing looming deficits with the massive demographic of the baby boomers only adding to its loss of solvency. Congress will have no choice but to put this critical program on strong financial footing. 

Clearly the system is broke and we need comprehensive health care reform. Doing nothing is not an option. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the United States House of Representatives passed a comprehensive bill covering 96 percent of legal residents younger than 65 at a cost of $1.055 trillion over 10 years. It includes a new public plan to be run by the federal government, expands Medicaid to all individuals younger than 65 with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, mandates employers provide insurance to their employees or face a penalty of 8 percent of their payroll for companies with payrolls over $500,000 annually(those under $500,000 would be exempt), mandates individuals buy insurance or face a tax on their income of 2.5%(hardship waivers are available if coverage is unavailable or unaffordable), and ends denial of coverage for preexisting conditions starting in 2013 among others things. 

The House bill is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it laid the foundation for an honest dialogue about critically needed health care reform. It passed on a partisan vote and I’m disappointed that most Republican Members of Congress presented no real viable alternatives in this discussion but instead focused on defeating the Democratic bill. 

For some, genuine philosophical and/or fiscal concerns kept them from supporting the legislation, but many party leaders, activists, and even some elected officials publicly called for defeating health care reform as a vehicle for destroying the presidency of Barack Obama. That is the worst brand of politics, subverting policy to political power and ambition. Both parties have played this game at times hoping the other fails in order to gain control of the levers of power. It is wrong no matter who does it and has led to distrust of elected officials at every level. It is time to stop politics as usual. 

Unfortunately, the Health Care Reform bill passed by the United State Senate is a clunker full of cash payments to Senators more interested in bringing home pork to their respective states, instead of an effective vehicle for true health care reform. 

Written by lobbyists and filled with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pork barrel projects doled out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to win the votes of individual Senators, the Senate health care bill is a flawed embarrassment and a financial catastrophe. Using enhanced vote getting procedures that torture the limits of decency and the federal budget, Reid has turned support for a key piece of legislation into an auction for pork barrel projects to avoid a filibuster. 

LBJ would have threatened, cajoled, and pleaded his way to 60, grabbing Lieberman and asking him if he enjoyed being chair of his committee, told Nelson his dog wouldn’t hunt those kind of birds in Nebraska, and doing what else was needed to secure cloture and win passage of the bill.

 Sure he was a horse trader, but would never have made the sausage this messy under public scrutiny. Johnson of course stuck contracts to defense contractors in congressional districts, throughout the country to secure support for Vietnam and his war budgets and he helped many Senators and Members of Congress bring home the bacon as a reward for votes, but he also knew how to appeal to their egos and consciences. LBJ would have sat down with McConnell, McCain, and others saying, “Let’s pass this bill and make history”. 

There are numerous ways to get to yes with a Senator without stooping to legislative bribery. Alas we’re stuck with Reid and the havoc he has wrought to win passage of the Senate bill.