Monday, August 31, 2009

The Daily Strike-8/31/09-The Gang of Six

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on this final day in August. There was virtually no news today in the political world, so I'll give you another August musing.

GANG OF SIX: Three tidbits of news today deeply troubled me. They all involved members of the so-called "Gang of Six," the Senate Finance Committee members who are attempting to fashion a bipartisan health care compromise. One of the Republican members, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, sent out a mailer to supporters asking for money. What was his selling point? Opposition to health reform! He is anticipating a challenge in next year's Republican primary, and wants his supporters to know that he is fighting against "Obamacare." Another negotiator, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, gave the Republican response to President Obama's weekly radio address, by spreading GOP falsehoods. Among his claims were that the Democrats wants to cut Medicare and use comparative effectiveness research to deny treatment to the disabled (a spin-off on Sarah Palin's death panel lie).

These are two of the six people we are entrusting President Obama's biggest domestic policy priority. All of the other committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate have passed bills. All of those bills include the public option. Yet reform has stalled because the Gang of Six says that they need more time and that they'll be "ready when (they're) ready." So let's find out just who these people are:

Republicans: Chuck Grassley, Iowa. Grassley was last elected in 2004, when most Iowa voters had never heard of Barack Obama. He received 1.03 million votes, about 1/70th of Barack Obama's total. He has received $200,000 from health professionals, over $180,000 from insurance companies, and $145,000 from pharmaceutical companies. He recently said at a town hall meeting that people should fear that the government "will pull the plug on grandma."

Mike Enzi, Wyoming. Enzi won reelection last year with 189,000 votes in a state that is 96% white. For those of you keeping score, that's about .2 percent of President Obama's total. He has received about $500,000 combined from various health care stakeholders, mostly from insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

Olympia Snowe: Snowe is slightly less objectionable. She won reelection in the state of Maine with 389,000 votes, about 50,000 less than Obama received in her state last year. She gets over $300,000 from the health care industry, and Aetna is her 2nd biggest donor.

Democrats: Max Baucus, Montana. Max Baucus won last year with 345,000 votes. He was one of the top recipients of health industry money, raking in over $1.5 million in the 2008 cycle alone.

Kent Conrad, North Dakota. Senator Conrad, as we've mentioned goes on TV every weekend to remind the American people that Democrats don't have the votes to pass health reform, and has been a constant thorn in the side of Democrats who want to use expedited procedures to pass a good bill. He won reelection in 2006 with a whopping 149,o00 votes. He took about 5 times as much money from the health industry in 2006 than he won votes.

Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico. Usually a solid Seantor, Bingaman has decided to retreat into gang life. He won in 2006 with 383,000 votes.

So let's tally that up. Barack Obama won the election last year with about 70,000,000 votes. His most important policy initiative is resting in the hands of self-anointed kingmakers who won a combined 2.4 million votes over the past 6 years.

But the vote total is only one part of the story. It's not only undemocratic because they represent such a minuscule portion of the population. It's undemocratic because they are all major beneficiaries of the very system they're trying to reform. Even the supposed good guys in this group, like Baucus, have shown very little urgency or passion for getting this done. We have no idea what they do in their marathon meetings. And through it all, they insist that they be left alone as they spend months and months deliberating.

This gang is the best evidence that the institutions of our democracy are fundamentally undemocratic. Right now, it's the biggest obstacle to enacting health reform. It is, as Bill Maher called it, the "true death panel."

We'll see you tomorrow night.

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