Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Much-Needed Bill Moyers’ Touch on Health Care Reform

In July 2006, the late Molly Ivins wrote a column promoting Bill Moyers for president. Ivins led off with these words:

Dear desperate Democrats:

Here’s what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It’s simple, cheap, and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.

Ivins died of breast cancer in January 2007 but I thought of her today when I read this piece on health care reform by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship. Like many Americans, I’ve been struggling to follow the progress of health care reform this time around as reported by a media still doing its best to damn Hillary Clinton and prop up Barack Obama. Barely mentioned by either the old or new media are the travesties perpetrated by the insurance and pharmaceutical companies continuously in league with the Republican Party from the 90s until today when they’ve managed to get their way with Democratic Party leadership.

Sure enough it's taken Moyers’ touch to bring moral clarity to the topic. First, he and co-author Winship nail the Repubs:

The Republican strategy is almost identical to the way they turned health care into Waterloo for Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1993. Back then, one of their chief propagandists, William Kristol, urged his party to block any health care plan for fear that Democrats would be seen as "the generous protector of middle class interests." Now he's telling the GOP to "go for the kill... throw the kitchen sink... drive a stake through its heart... We need to start over."

Next, our intrepid authors go after corporate interests:

As the Republicans fired away, big business stepped up the attack, too, their lobbying and advertising guns blazing. The Chamber of Commerce, for one, announced a major campaign of rallies and print and Internet ads to crush the White House plan for a competitive public option allowing consumers to choose between a government plan and private health insurance. In key states where members of Congress remain on the fence, the airwaves are vibrating with television commercials aimed at shifting hearts and minds away from any change that might threaten profits.

Obama does not escape criticism:

President Obama rejected the Republicans' Waterloo metaphor and mounted a massive media counteroffensive of his own. But the President has already run into booby traps of his own making and minefields laid by members of his own party, exacerbated when the Congressional Budget Office reported that reform plans, instead of controlling costs, would send the national debt further into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, supporters who want to scrap the present system for fundamental change are staring glumly though the fog of war at a battlefield in total disarray. They fear that in the White House's desire to get a bill -- any bill -- passed by Congress, it will have been so compromised, so bent to favor the big interests, that it will be less Waterloo than water down, a steady diluting of the change they had hoped for and that America needs.

And here’s a depressing word or two regarding the successes of the pharmaceutical industry (Remember when candidate Obama pledged to rid Washington of lobbyists?):

According to the Associated Press, the drug industry's trade group PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) and the drug company Pfizer "reported spending more money than other health care organizations on lobbying in the second quarter of this year" -- $6.2 million from PhRMA, $5.6 million from Pfizer.

"Including its latest report, PhRMA has now spent $13.1 million lobbying so far this year. Pfizer has reported $11.7 million in lobbying expenses for 2009."

There’s more:

This is part of the reason, as Alicia Mundy and Laura Meckler recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, that "the pharmaceuticals industry, which President Barack Obama promised to 'take on' during his campaign, is winning most of what it wants in the health-care overhaul."

Their story describes "a string of victories" plucked from the Senate Finance Committee by drug company lobbyists, including no cost-cutting steps, no cheaper drugs to be allowed across the border from Canada, and no direct Federal government negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies to lower Medicare drug prices.

And that's not all. The Senate Health Committee is giving the biotech industry monopoly protection against competition from generic drugs for 12 years after they go on the market.

And now for the return of the fabled Harry and Louise. Moyers and Winship conclude:

No wonder the cost of reform keeps going up and up and up. Could it be that Harry and Louise are happier because, this time, they're in on the deal?

Back in 2006, Molly Ivins suggested to her readers that we write to Moyers and let him know what we thought of her idea to enter his name in the Democratic primary. I took her up on it and urged him to run. As I recall, I received a thoughtful card in response from Moyers. Too bad he declined. Seriously.


  1. Republicans have no power right now. Health insurance reform is all on the Democrats right now...if they want it passed, quit blaming Republicans and pass it. They have the majority in Congress and the Senate, and they have the Whitehouse, so blaming the Republicans is pointless and counterproductive.

  2. The drug companies need to be taken to task right now. One of the major reasons for the increase in costs for coverage has to do with the enabling of the drug companies by the FDA, and the willingness of both Democrats and Republicans to play ball rather than stand up to them. Too much contribution money involved from big pharma lobbyists, I suppose.