By Elizabeth Burke
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report
In a historic address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama finally laid out the plan for his healthcare reform bill. It was clear, concise and about time. It was also a time to see who sat, who stood and who applauded. I have been waiting to hear the president outline exactly what is in the bill and I do believe he did. But that didn’t stop some people from pouting, sitting on their hands, texting (updating your Facebook status, Eric Cantor?) and waving sheets of paper in the air, blatantly disrespecting the office of the President, not to mention the president himself.
But never mind those sourpusses. I was also waiting for some words, some passion, some sense that healthcare is an issue so important that Obama would not allow it to be hijacked by those who’d destroy it to get re-elected. Message received: The president reminded us that this fight has raged for more than 60 years, that while nothing, or relatively little, has been done but political grandstanding and bickering, healthcare costs have spun so far out of control that the entire fiscal security of the United States is under mortal threat. Morphine drip, please.
Healthcare, I watched President Obama tell us, accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy. One-sixth! The problem is that our national expenditures for health are expected to outpace the economy: Between 2008 and 2018, the average annual increase in healthcare is expected to be 6.2 percent, while GDP is expected to rise just 4.1 percent. The U.S. is already spending more on healthcare than any other democratic nation in the world. We know healthcare costs three times more for individual coverage than employer-based coverage — good luck with that, freelancer! Some 30 million of us have no healthcare (many Democrats put the figure at 47 million); some 14,000 people lose their coverage each month, very often because small businesses can no longer afford to offer it. I saw Obama explain to us that these are our immediate problems. I saw him call upon Congress to help him solve those problems.
Indeed, I saw him explain that not only is ours a dangerous, deadly, broken system, its economically unsustainable. I saw Obama, in addition to laying out his plan, lay out Republican lies. He called out lies on death panels, on paying for illegal immigrants to get free healthcare, on government furnishing free abortions to all. I saw Obama actually use the word “lie.” Not only did that it earn a rousing round of applause from the left, but I saw him served icicle daggers from the right. Including a big heaping bowl of icicle daggers from Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who yelled out “You lie.”
Here is my response:
Really, Congressman? That is your adult response? You call the president a liar when, if you actually read the bill, you’d feel just like the fool you don’t know you’ve become?
I saw Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), of the Perm-a-tan Boehners, sitting like a bronze statue. I watched Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) busily twittering away (“M. Bachmann winked at me! LOL!”). I observed Sen. John McCain, his face frozen in a grimacesmirk. All that disrespecting of the Congress, of everyone’s constituents, of themselves as they booed, hooted and hollered, as if the Republicans were drunk in a comedy club or, um, at a town hall meeting. I didn’t see the queen of the boo, the ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin Comparison. (P.S.: read Variety Fair this month…fantastic!)
I also saw the president give shoutouts to good Republican ideas, like McCain’s campaign promise to make it illegal for healthcare companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Or tort reform! Who wouldn’t like that? But nothing, it seems, can yank those sorry sons of Republican bitches from the deep, comfortable, velvet-lined pockets of the health insurance lobby. I saw a man trying to break bread with the Party of No. Unfortunately, I saw the Party of No thrill to the idea of starving him of such bread, and starving the American people along with him.
The president touted ideas that only the coldest, most frost-infused heart could turn down. Not only did he agree with McCain’s proposals, he signed on to lifetime caps on policy holders, to ceilings on what insurance companies can pay. (Has anybody actually read the fine print in this plan?) Obama wants to make it illegal to drop policy holders that do get sick, to limit out-of-pocket expenses so one doesn’t lose one’s home. Obama wants it to be illegal to charge more for preventative care and check-ups. What is not to like? How can any of this be a problem?
But the most important part of the speech I saw came near the end, when President Obama stated that not allowing a public option was not on the table, that he “won’t back down on choice.” Note that he didn’t say free healthcare for all. He wants affordable options I can buy into without moving back to my parents house. (Trust me, no one wants that!)
The system would be paid for, in part, by savings found within the existing healthcare system — computerizing patient records; extinguishing Medicare and Medicaid fraud; avoiding the overhead of private companies through excessive administrative costs and executive salaries. What is “waste”? Well, how about no more with different doctors running identical tests because of poor communications and the inefficiency of paper records. Competing in the open market for prescriptions will bring costs down — yes, it will. Preventative care will save billions over the next 20 years — yes, it will.
And yes, it will be expensive, but I saw President Obama remind us that it’s also expensive to support two wars that aren’t even on the books. Still, Obama said, “I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promise don’t materialize.” How can that be misconstrued? Turn in to Fox to find out.
Speaking of Fox, I went to the bathroom after the speech, almost missing the GOP response! I guess they remembered good old Bobby Jindal’s long, rambling, sing-song response to Obama’s State of the Union speech and thought, Hmm, let’s go as far in the other direction from the Louisiana governor as possible. Well, it wasn’t that far: Chosen to deliver the rebuttal was Lord Charles Bustany, a.k.a. Rep. Charles Bustany (R-LA), whose bought a British lordship a few years ago, only to discover it was a sham. (Don’t you just hate when that happens?) So I raced back to the couch and listened as this cardiothoracic surgeon said, in effect, “Screw you, you uninsured sickos.” Lord Bustany likes abolishing the pre-existing condition clause, likes preventative care, of course loves medical-liability reform and I saw him, I think, say something vague about providing care for those who can’t afford it. However, he didn’t like the part about rationing care. Funny, Obama didn’t talk about that — I guess that section of the bill is a dog whistle that only Republicans can hear. I saw Lord Bustany finish not by outlining the GOP plan (two-second pause: What GOP plan?) but about reaching a bipartisan agreement. Maybe the GOP could reach across first, but I didn’t see much hope of that? Indeed, as Les Miz puts it:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame
Over the last two months, I have watched this healthcare debate turn into a trailer-park brawl on payday Friday. I have been sickened to see how such a deeply caring, compassionate (remember compassionate conservatives?) and truly American piece of legislation has been beaten, bullied and torn asunder. It has hurt my belief in the ability of our nation. I pity those on Medicare screaming about socialist medicine and fascist governments. Do they not know that Medicare is a government-run healthcare system? Do they not remember World War II?
What I did see, however, oddly renewed my hope that a bill might get passed. I hope that Obama is ready to fight, for this isn’t a time to play nice. If no one stands up for the uninsured now — I don’t care if there are 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 million of them — this issue will vanish for another generation. Or maybe it will never return, or maybe it will return when our nation is bankrupt, powerless and imploding, and full of death and self-destruction.
I believe, because at one time Congress did stand up and did fight for Social Security and, 30 years later, for Medicare. I believe, because I can’t stand the thought of what we the U.S. will have become if we don’t enact reform.
I saw President Obama say, “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” I see the need to pray that he succeeds.
Elizabeth Burke, a New York-based actor, has been involved in politics since her first campaign at age 16. Burke’s Law does not necessarily represent the views of The Clyde Fitch Report.