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Posted on on November 29th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


Contributing Op-Ed Writer


Rooting for Failure


I just spent 15 minutes on my local health care exchange and realized that I could save a couple hundred dollars a month on my family’s insurance. Of course, I live in Washington State, which has a very competitive market, a superbly functioning website and no Koch-brothers-sponsored saboteurs trying to discourage people from getting health care.

California is just as good. It’s enrolling more than 2,000 people a day. New York is humming as well. And Kentucky, it’s the gold standard now: More than 56,000 people have signed up for new health care coverage — enough to fill a stadium in Louisville.

This is terrible news, and cannot be allowed to continue. If there’s even a small chance that, say, half of the 50 million or so Americans currently without heath care might get the same thing that every other advanced country offers its citizens, that would be a disaster.

But not to worry. The failure movement is active and very well funded. You probably know about the creepy Uncle Sam character in ads financed by the Koch brothers. Sicko Sam is seen leering over a woman on her back in a hospital exam room, her legs in stirrups. This same guy is now showing up on college campuses, trying to get young people to opt out of health care. On some campuses, he plies students with free booze and pizza — swee-eeet!

The Republican Party started a failure campaign earlier this year, but then the strategy got sidetracked in a coercive government shutdown that cost us all $24 billion or so. With the disastrous rollout of the federal exchange, Republicans now smell blood. A recent memo outlined a far-reaching, multilevel assault on the Affordable Care Act. Horror stories — people losing their lousy health insurance — will be highlighted, and computer snafus celebrated.

Ron Paul, the nuttier of the two political Pauls, recently suggested to a crowd in Virginia that “nullification” of the health care law might be the best way to kill it. I’m not sure what he meant by that, but it sounds illegal.

It’s hard to remember a time when a major political party and its media arm were so actively rooting for fellow Americans to lose. When the first attempt by the United States to launch a satellite into orbit, in 1957, ended in disaster, did Democrats start to cheer, and unify to stop a space program in its infancy? Or, when Medicare got off to a confusing start, did Republicans of the mid-1960s wrap their entire political future around a campaign to deny government-run health care to the elderly?

Of course not. But for the entirety of the Obama era, Republicans have consistently been cheerleaders for failure. They rooted for the economic recovery to sputter, for gas prices to spike, the job market to crater, the rescue of the American automobile industry to fall apart.

I get it. This organized schadenfreude goes back to the dawn of Obama’s presidency, when Rush Limbaugh, later joined by Senator Mitch McConnell, said their No. 1 goal was for the president to fail. A CNN poll in 2010 found 61 percent of Republicans hoping Obama would fail (versus only 27 percent among all Americans).

Wish granted, mission accomplished. Obama has failed — that is, if you judge by his tanking poll numbers. But does this collapse in approval have to mean that the last best chance for expanding health care for millions of Americans must fail as well?

Does this mean we throw in the towel, and return to a status quo in which insurance companies routinely cancel policies, deny health care to people with pre-existing conditions and have their own death panel treatment for patients who reach a cap in medical benefits?

The Republican plan would do just that, because they have no plan but to crush the nation’s fledgling experiment. Sometimes they bring up vouchers, or tort reform, or some combination of catchphrases. Here was Sarah Palin, who is to articulate reason what Mr. Magoo is to vision, on the Republican alternative, as she told Matt Lauer:

“The plan is to allow those things that have been proposed over many years to reform a health care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort-reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases. And those plans have been proposed over and over. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left.”

Yes, it is a big and legitimate news story, for a presidency built on technical expertise, that the federal exchange is not working as promised. Ditto Obama’s vow that people could keep their bottom-feeder health care policies.

But where were the news conferences, the Fox News alerts, the parading of people who couldn’t get their lifesaving cancer treatments under the old system? Where was the media attention when thousands of people were routinely dumped once they got sick? When did Republicans in Congress hold an oversight hearing on the leading cause of personal bankruptcy — medical debt?

All of that is what we had before. And all of that is what we will return to if some version of the Affordable Care Act is not made workable. Republicans have a decent chance, in next year’s elections, of killing the dream of progressive presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt. But they shouldn’t count on it. What’s going against them, or any party invested in failure, is that Americans are inherently optimistic. That alone may be enough to save Obamacare.



Government in Slow Motion

Last week, in a fit of fury after they lost the ability to filibuster President Obama’s nominees, several Congressional Republicans threatened to retaliate by slowing things down on Capitol Hill. Democrats “will have trouble in a lot of areas because there’s going to be a lot of anger,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, specifically warning that a United Nations disability treaty was now in danger of being rejected for the second time.

It’s hard to see how Republicans could slow things down more than they already have for the last several years. Yes, they can prevent committees from meeting and add days of wasted time to every nomination and bill. Just after the filibuster vote, in fact, Senate Republicans refused a routine request for unanimous consent to approve several of the president’s uncontested nominees.

But the larger business of governing is already being cast aside. As Politico recently reported, the current Congress has only enacted 49 laws, the fewest since 1947. That’s a mark of pride to Tea Party nihilists, but, for the rest of the country, which expects action on fundamentals like jobs and immigration, it’s a mark of shame.

When lawmakers left town for the Thanksgiving vacation, they missed their deadline to complete a farm bill.

House Republicans want to use the bill to cut food stamps by $40 billion over a decade, which would end benefits for at least three million people during each of those years.

Democrats are refusing to let this happen (though, unfortunately, they have proposed their own $4 billion cut).

The resulting stalemate could drive up the price of milk.

Republicans continued their filibuster of the annual defense authorization bill after Democrats resisted their attempts to add unrelated amendments imposing new sanctions on Iran and repealing health care reform. The bill has been passed every year for a half-century, but this year could break that streak.

The House has refused to take up important legislation passed by the Senate to reform the immigration system and punish workplace discrimination against gay and lesbian employees.

In addition, more than 1.3 million people will lose unemployment insurance at the end of the year, and the House has shown no interest in renewing it.

The most immediate priority for Congress is to reach a budget agreement by mid-December, to relieve the sequester cuts that have decimated so many important programs and now threaten the Pentagon’s readiness beginning next year. Negotiators from both chambers have had more than a month to come up with a solution, but Representative Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, has resisted the most obvious one: ending a group of tax loopholes for the very rich and using the money to replace the worst aspects of the sequester. Instead, he simply wants to make other cuts, or raise fees on purchases like airline tickets and duck stamps that affect many people of modest means, thereby protecting high-end tax shelters.

The House is back next week, but the Senate will remain on vacation, leaving only a few workdays before the deadline of Dec. 13 to reach an agreement. Without one, the government will have to be paid for with yet another short-term continuing resolution — a symbol of dysfunction that seems to have no end.

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