Republicans Screw Doctors and Medicare Patients To Fight Health Care Reform

Books such as What’s The Matter With Kansas note how people vote against their economic self-interest by voting Republican. The thought is that lower income individuals vote Republican despite the fact that Republican economic policies only benefit the ultra-wealthy. (They provide some token benefits for those making over $250,000, but to really benefit from the Republican it is necessary to make over $600,000.) This week’s activity in Congress shows that it isn’t only lower income voters who are taken for a ride by GOP, but also doctors.

Historically doctors have tended to vote Republican, with this trend weakening in recent years as more affluent voters have been voting Democratic. I do not agree with the idea that people should only vote based upon their economic self-interest. If people in the religious right feel that stopping gays from getting married is more important than having health care for their children I feel their values are severely warped, but in such a case it would make sense for many people in Kansas to vote Republican. On the other hand, why should doctors vote for the party which is anti-science and supports the teaching of creationism?

We certainly should not vote Republican based upon economic reasons. This week Democrats Harry Reid and Michigan Senator Debby Stanbenow tried to pass a measure to fix the Medicare payment formula which everyone agrees in flawed. Reid expected to receive some Republican support for a measure which fixes a problem harming the medical profession. The Republican Party, along with a dozen Democrats, blocked the bill.

Republicans are basically playing politics at the expense of physicians and Medicare patients here. Every year Congress has voted to override the pay cuts which the payment formula called for, and in reality eliminating the formula would cost no more money than we actually spend. Failure to override the formula would lead to most doctors no longer being able to see Medicare patients. While eliminating the payment formula makes sense, this allows Republicans to falsely claim Democrats are increasing spending. The Republicans hope to have the fix for the Medicare payment formula included in the health reform legislation. This would falsely increase the expense of health care reform on paper, giving the Republicans another talking point against. it.

The lesson here is that doctors should note that Republicans are not our friends. The same can be said by most other people in the country.

There is also an opportunity for Barack Obama here. He made a mistake in promising that health care reform will be budget neutral. Republicans did not consider the budget when they went to war in Iraq, or when they passed the Medicare D program, which provides massive subsidies to reward the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their support.

Sometimes when there is a program which would be as beneficial to the country as health care reform we should spend what is necessary to do it right. Democrats have been far more fiscally conservative in recent years, but the Republicans continue to attack them with false claims that they are the fiscally responsible party. Democrats are going to be attacked for spending whether it is true or not, so they might as well spend money where it is beneficial. This would be the perfect time for Obama to say that he had wanted to make health care reform budget neutral but that is no longer possible because of the games being played by Republicans to inflate the costs of health care reform on paper.

Dealing with Fox

The Obama administration must walk a fine line in their response to Fox. It is perfectly legitimate for them, as it is for any person, to point out the  fact that Fox is not a legitimate news organization. Suddenly conservatives who ignored real civil liberties issues under George Bush, and who never seemed to realize the Bill of Rights contained anything other than the right to bear arms, are making unjustified claims of civil liberties issues here. With conservatives trying to make a false equivalency between this and Richard Nixon’s enemies list, as well as falsely claiming there are First Amendment issues, it would be counterproductive for the Obama administration to risk going overboard in their treatment of Fox.

Fox is an organization established to promote conservative views, often using the format of news shows which are actually promoting their viewpoint. To honestly state the facts about Fox is permissible. Obviously to act to suppress their right to express their views, including making false statements or falsely claiming to be “fair and balanced,” would be a violation of the First Amendment. Taking too hard a line against them verbally runs the risk of giving the appearance of violating the First Amendment.

David Corn has a good response to this dilemma. He has experience in dealing with Fox:

I’m watching this fight as no disinterested observer. For years I was a rare commodity: a liberal commentator on Fox News. I enjoyed working with the bookers and producers at Fox’s Washington bureau. But the place often felt like a foreign territory. On air, I was always the visiting team. The routine usually went something like this: A right-wing host (either an out-in-the-open conservative or barely veiled one) would turn to the conservative guest and ask, “You think the war in Iraq is a stunning success. Please tell us why it’s going so well.” Then s/he would introduce me and say, “Now, I understand you’re against fighting for freedom. Can you explain to our audience why that is?”

Context is everything. While there have been decent, hardworking journalists at Fox, the enterprise is indeed colored by its far-right opinion-masters, most notably those on-air: Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Even its supposed straight-news shows tilt right, with panels loaded with more arch-conservatives than strong liberals. (Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, has convincingly chronicled how the far-right views expressed on Fox’s opinion shows shape the network’s news coverage.)

His solution:

Rather than react in a huffy manner to Fox — which provides an alternative reality to outraged conservatives who feel lost in Obama’s America — the White House ought to opt for what I’d call strategic derision. Good-natured belittling — but belittling, all the same — would go further than indignation, even if the indignation can be justified. That is, don’t demolish Fox, demean it. Gibbs should chuckle when a Fox correspondent asks a Foxian question. After all, if Fox is not to be taken seriously, don’t take it seriously. And by all means, don’t send Obama officials on Fox shows. But if a White House official is asked about this, he or she should reply with dismissive humor, not anger. (“We’d rather be reading the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform bill.”) Obama is well-skilled when it comes to deploying a light-but-cutting touch. That ought to be terms of engagement for his aides involved in the Fox skirmish. Fox is not important enough to be treated as Public Enemy No. 1.

Bashing the conservative network could rally Obama’s base. But Obama, for good or bad, did promise to rise above partisan sentiment and the game playing of the Washington political-media circus. With a clever use of strategic derision, Obama and his aides could do this and still stick it to the network. Fox is just not worth a game of chicken.

John Kerry, Man of the Hour

John Kerry is not only “de facto Secretary of State” per an earlier post. He is also Politico’s Man of the Hour” for resolving the dispute over Afghanistan’s election.

Bloomberg compares Kerry’s diplomatic efforts to other high-profile diplomatic efforts:

Kerry’s involvement is the latest high-profile diplomatic effort by an unofficial envoy that has benefited the Obama administration. In August, former President Bill Clinton flew to North Korea to secure the release of two American journalists and held discussions with regime leader Kim Jong Il that started a thaw in relations with the U.S.

The Obama administration is now willing to hold direct talks to persuade North Korea to return to multinational negotiations aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons program.

Also in August, Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, flew to Myanmar, where the U.S. has had limited contact, and won the release of an American imprisoned there. The Obama administration has since announced a new policy of direct talks with the military rulers of the Southeast Asian nation in an effort to promote democratic changes.

In another example, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, visited Cuba as a de facto envoy and recommended upon his return that the administration engage in broader talks with the communist government.

Marc Ambinder asks, “Has Sen. John Kerry ever had as good a press cycle?” Probably not since he won the Iowa caucuses in 2004, leading to victory for the Democratic nomination. This widespread praise for Kerry is well-deserved, but the heads must be exploding on a few of the Swift Boat Liars.