Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 9, 2009

Liberal choreography could give River Dance a run for their money. Last week we reported a warning from the
Labor Campaign for Single-Payer,

“House Speaker Pelosi seems poised to present a healthcare reform bill to the full house stripped of the Kucinich Amendment and without a debate and vote on the single-payer Weiner Amendment. Pelosi promised to support both amendments last summer when she needed the support of single-payer Representatives to move the main healthcare reform bill through congressional committees. Now, in an apparent concession to the House Blue Dogs and their corporate sponsors, she has reneged on her commitments.”

Pelosi was deluged with protests--including a sit-in by single-payer activists in her San Francisco office, leading to their arrest. On Thursday Pelosi announced a vote on Weiner was “expected” as part of the extraordinary Saturday session dealing with “reform.”

But wait! It turned out that more than the Blue Dogs wanted to deep six an up-and-down vote on single-payer in the House–so did Weiner, Conyers, and Kucinich.

The New York Times reported on Friday afternoon,

“Representative Anthony D. Weiner, Democrat of New York, a fierce champion in Congress of a single-payer health system that would be fully run by the government, said Friday that he had agreed not to insist on a vote on that issue, in an effort to help Democratic leaders pass their plan.”

Democrat representatives John Conyers, and Dennis Kucinich, currently designated as co-authors of HR676, sent a statement to the Common Dreams website which included this declaration,

“Many progressives in Congress, ourselves included, feel that calling for a vote tomorrow for single payer would be tantamount to driving the movement over a cliff. The thrill of the vote would disappear quickly when the result would be characterized not as a new beginning for single payer but as an end.”

As a prisoner of linear thought I will avoid the question of how you leap to the end without a prior beginning. As a matter of fact, no health care proposal is more popular among the American people than single-payer. Hundreds of unions, including the recent AFL-CIO convention, are on record in favor. Doesn’t that entitle us to at least know who in Congress is on our side and who is against us? It seems to me that withdrawing even this symbolic vote plays in to the ruthless efforts of the White House, Congressional leaders, and the mass media to keep single-payer advocates unseen and unheard.

Remember when sixty “progressives” were threatening to shoot down this bill to drive millions more in to the clutches of the insurance robber barons if it failed to include a “robust” public option? Remember when our labor statespersons vowed to do the same? Had these threats been backed by action we would not now have the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

But when push came to shove they decided the way forward for our movement was to help pass Obama’s bill, by then endorsed by the AMA, the AARP insurance peddlers, and, conditionally, the Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Now the good Bishops think more billable patients in Church clinics and hospitals is a mighty fine thing. But, unlike the progressives, their principles are not so easily cast aside. These Apostle’s descendants successfully demanded an amendment that forbids use of tax payer subsidies for a medical procedure done only by competitors–abortions.

An e-mail from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, began,

“While there are some who are satisfied with the health care reform bill that passed in the House of Representatives late Saturday night, I am not one of them.

“When it came down to it, Congress passed a bill that will undercut women's access to comprehensive health care. Despite hundreds of thousands of voters like you and me who called on members of Congress to include women's health care in health care reform, the bill that passed late Saturday night includes a ban on private abortion coverage for millions of women and would prohibit it in the new ‘public option.’”

(It’s interesting that Pelosi was telling single-payer advocates earlier in the week that she didn’t want a vote on Weiner because that would open the floor for anti-choice amendments!)

Liberals have long been granted leeway by their party to introduce seemingly radical proposals–that never get so much as a committee hearing. As Rev Jesse Jackson once famously declared, it takes two wings for their party to fly. Bills for shorter work weeks, withdrawal from Iraq, and single-payer, energize the folks around the Nation, Progressive, Mother Jones, etc., who help keep their wing flapping.

But with any serious challenge, the left gadflies in Congress are quickly reminded that their constituents expect to get roads and bridges and other earmarks that are awarded only to those who play within the rules.

An article in today’s Washington Post describes the tone,

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team won a hard-fought victory on Obama's most critical domestic policy agenda item by neutralizing the most potentially toxic political issue well in advance of the final vote, siding with centrists on their preferred version of the public option. She then publicly dared the progressive wing, with its strong commitment to establishing national health insurance, to take down the entire package because one piece was not to their liking.

“The progressives blinked. Only two, Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), lived up to the July pledge signed by roughly 60 liberals in which they vowed to vote against the bill if it did not contain their favored version of public option.”

The President himself, leaving nothing to chance, made the trek over to Capitol Hill just before the health bill came to the floor to remind all Democrats the way the game is still played.

Yesterday I received a “Dear William” e-mail message from the fiery new president of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka,

“What a moment! Last night, 219 Democrats and one Republican in the U.S. House, including your representative, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, voted to pass a health care reform bill that will end insurance company abuses, require employers to pay a fair share and establish a strong public option to lower costs and make insurance companies compete. And it won't tax the benefits of hard-working middle class families.

“With the opponents of reform working hard to go after representatives who voted right, I need you to call and thank your representative today for voting for the kind of health care reform working families need.

“Call and thank Rep. Cleaver today”

Sorry, Richard. I was born at night–but not last night. But I would like to trade my Lucky Strikes for whatever you’re smoking.

End insurance company abuses? I suggest Brother Trumka check out a video of current comments on this claim from the victims of insurance abuse featured in Michael Moore’s SiCKO.

Strong public option? As we noted last week, this option is expected to be used by only two percent of those under Medicare age, will be composed mainly of the sickest that private insurers don’t want, and will charge higher premiums than mandated private insurance. This “competition” will surely force the robber barons to their knees.

It is possible Republican obstructionists in the Senate, for their own partisan motives, will yet block this travesty that enriches insurance and Big Pharma at our expense, excludes immigrant workers from coverage, and imposes religion over human and medical decisions in family planning. We can only hope.

I agree with those who say the single-payer movement can be proud of what has been accomplished so far. This is particularly true considering the modest resources available. Of the hundreds of unions endorsing single-payer only the California Nurses Association has devoted material and membership commitment on the level it deserves.

But this legitimate pride doesn’t mean just keep on, keep on should be the order of the day. We need to recognize we got hosed, not only by the Establishment but those who claim to be our allies–if not our leaders–in Congress.

Hosed once, shame on them. Hosed twice, would be shame on us. Perhaps there are some honest, principled politicians who–like the young Gene Debs--wound up by mistake in the Democrat’s clipped left wing. We can assign Brother Diogenes to take a Maglite to go look for them.

But neither reasoned lobbying nor symbolic civil disobedience will be enough to actually win single-payer. There are no short cuts. We will win health care for all as a right only through the same method that brought victory in Britain, Canada, and elsewhere–by building a party of our own to fight for it.

In Brief...
¶ Congratulations are in order for SK Tools workers in Chicago Teamsters Local 743 for winning an honorable settlement to a hard fought ten week strike. You may recall the company cancelled the worker’s health care benefits without warning and wanted to do the same with pensions. The workers have saved their benefits though they had to accept substantial wage cuts. You can read a Labor Notes account of their struggle by clicking
¶ As part of a contract settlement involving thousands of nurses at more than thirty Catholic Healthcare West hospitals, the California Nurses Association broke new ground in protecting patients and staff. The centerpiece of the new settlement is the establishment of an emergency task force pairing nurses with hospital administrators to oversee readiness throughout the Catholic Healthcare West system whenever a pandemic is declared. CNA hopes to use this as a template in bargaining with other employers.

I’m nearing the end of the space I normally allow myself. Regrettably, the time sensitive attention to health care precludes much else that warrants saying--particularly substantial remarks about the climate crisis challenge in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit. That will be our lead next time.

Of course, you can be as well informed as I if you visit our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7AM, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

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