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Talk of Bipartisanship Is Now Thoroughly Warped

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Posted on Sep 21, 2009
Olympia Snowe
AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine is probably the Democrats’ best chance of a Republican vote for health care reform, but at what price?

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

It’s time to cast aside the political shorthand and ideological pigeonholing that distort our debates over health care in particular and government’s role in American life more broadly.

The way words such as centrist and bipartisan are now deployed turns the discussion away from useful arguments over how various proposals might work and toward arid talk about how ideas fit into prefabricated boxes.

The impact of this warping of reality, brought home daily in the health care fight, was dramatized in last week’s debate in the House of Representatives over a bill to expand federal aid to students by eliminating subsidies to bankers.

The bill, which passed 253-171, would allocate about $80 billion over the next decade for new loans, community colleges, school construction and early childhood programs without increasing taxes or adding to the deficit. How? Instead of paying bankers to provide loans for which they bear no real risk, the government would make the loans directly.

Liberals are always accused of spending money without worrying where it comes from, but in this case, costs are covered by making a government program more efficient—yes, at the expense of bankers.

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“We were paying these exorbitant subsidies to bankers who were taking government money, loaning it to somebody else, getting government guarantees that the loans would be paid back, and then taking all these profits,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the bill’s champion. This, he told me, led Congress to ask itself: “Hey, chump, what is it you don’t get about what’s going on here?”

The only knock on the proposal is ideological: that government is “taking over” the student loan program. But it’s already a government program. The bill simply eliminates corporate welfare.

This is a classic case of how the Great Ideological Distortion Machine does its mischief: Instead of focusing on how the bill advances values typically regarded as “centrist”—government efficiency, pay-as-you-go budgeting—the banks’ defenders bury the specifics behind abstract discussions of “big government.” Yet I’d venture that middle-of-the-road Americans prefer that their tax money go toward education rather than to padding the profits of financial firms.

The same distortions have affected the health care debate. Opponents of a public insurance option don’t want to talk about what it actually is—one alternative that would expand choice in the insurance marketplace. Instead, they pretend that it would amount to (that phrase again) a “government takeover” of health care.

But that would be true only if individuals themselves freely chose the public plan in overwhelming numbers, and the public plan has already been so hemmed in that its share of the market will be limited.

Or take a look at the efforts of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to make his health plan “centrist” by holding down costs. One way he does this is by cutting subsidies to middle-class Americans without insurance. Because the Baucus bill mandates that everyone buy a policy, many families in the $60,000-to-$85,000 income range who now lack coverage could end up paying almost a fifth of their incomes on health care costs. What, pray, is “centrist” about hitting part of the middle class so hard?

This provision will almost certainly be changed at the insistence of not only Democrats such as Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon, but also one of the last authentically centrist Republicans, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

That Snowe may be the single Republican who could vote for health care reform tells us a lot about the state of bipartisanship. In the days when there were a lot of moderate and even liberal Republicans, bipartisanship typically involved Democrats proposing that government undertake various worthy projects while moderate Republicans demanded efficient and market-oriented means to achieving those ends.

But all of the health bills on offer, even the supposedly “liberal” House bill, are already centrist compromises built on a private health insurance market and entailing less government spending than many liberals think is necessary. Why is Snowe almost alone in her party in acknowledging this?

It’s fine with me if conservatives want to fight reforms in health care or student loans on the merits. But, please, let’s disenthrall ourselves from phony definitions of centrism and bipartisanship. As Miller might put it, only chumps allow labels to blind them to what’s really going on.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.

    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Inherit The Wind, September 23, 2009 at 4:37 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, Nader, your boy who just recently said the Super-Rich will save us.

Why did TD post the absolute worst pic of Olympia Snowe?

And why does Susan Collins, who should be her political twin, hate Snowe vehemently and is insanely jealous of Snowe getting all the press, popularity and influence?

(Hint: Susan, be amenable to a Dem Health Care bill and they’ll forget Snowe exists!)

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By berniem, September 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment

Wasn’t it Nader that said we are governed by a democratically elected, two party dictatorship? The two party system is shot.

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By yours truly, September 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A couple decades ago when there was resistance in China to its switching from socialism to capitalism, Deng Xiaoping carried the day with his famous ‘Doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches the mouse”.  And my how our Republicans cheered Deng’s pragmatism in regards to China’s taking the Capitalist road.  Yet today, when the question is what’s the best way to deliver opimal health care to everyone, nobody left out, Republicans are putting ideology before the lives of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans?  Hey, Republicans, is pragmatism something that’s only good for the Chinese, not for us?

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By KDelphi, September 23, 2009 at 12:18 am Link to this comment

It is hard to believe that Democrats do not see how their party has betrayed them…but the delusion must be pleasant.

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By hark, September 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In this statement, “Instead, they pretend that it would amount to (that phrase again) a ‘government takeover’ of health care.

But that would be true only if individuals themselves freely chose the public plan in overwhelming numbers, . . . ,”  Mr. Dionne has fallen into the trap that so many liberals cede to their opponents.

Notice the subtle shift from “health insurance,” to “health care” in the Republican framing of the debate.  Republicans are always claiming a government takeover of “health care,” which is ridiculous, a lie, instead of “health insurance,” which still is a lie, an exaggeration, but at least in the right ballpark.

“Health care” and “health insurance” are not the same thing.  Nobody has suggested, ever, that the government perform the former.  And government, through Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid has proven itself much more efficient than the private sector on the latter.

Things are much worse, at least when it comes to language, than Orwell ever dreamed.

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By ocjim, September 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Roger, lie, lie and vilify has such a truth ring for conservatives. It is a perfect counter to Wilson’s, you lie.

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By Rodger Lemonde, September 22, 2009 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bi partisanship ain’t going to happen. The Republicans
would rather see us die by the thousands from cancer
than see one hiccup in the money mill that is the
current health care system. They have had plenty of
time to craft reasonable options but refuse to do so.
Lie, lie and vilify is what they offer instead. These
people are not doing what they were elected to do. They
are bought and paid for by the system that is killing
more Americans than all terrorist activity in this
country since it’s inception. Now that is a sick
priority for elected officials.

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By glider, September 21, 2009 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

>Wow, I am stunned that Congress has passed this bill!!! <

Opps!! I really need to stop getting so excited.  It only passed the House, there is still time for it too be killed by our “representatives” in the Senate.  So I will believe it when I see it.

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By mcthorogood, September 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

At the time of the Great Depression, the U.S. was last among the developed nations to institute social security for its citizens.  Today we’re the last developed country to have health care, instead we have wealth care for corporations.

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

So,I guess Ms. Snow will be calling Mr Specter to find out exactly how to change parties.

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By bEHOLD_tHE_mATRIX, September 21, 2009 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bipartisanship?  What the hell is that?  Is that
something like patriotism or lapel flag wearing?  Or
teabagging?  Or conservatism?  Or liberalism?  This
country is nothing more than a collection of idiot
meaningless notions.

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By ocjim, September 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

“but in this case, costs are covered by making a government program more efficient—yes, at the expense of bankers.”

If this is the case, it will be defeated. In the last decade, moneyed interests have always beaten the people.

Why does this prejudice against government still have any resonance. The Democrats are in power. Did someone tell them. They don’t have to cower now when Republican nitwits speak.

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By dihey, September 21, 2009 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment

Latest news: the average price of drugs in The Netherlands, a country with “single payer health insurance”, decreased by 10% in 2008. Were you informed of that by your Health Secretary Mr. President?

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By rage96, September 21, 2009 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

...look, I’ve had it with this brown bomber who’s actually a beige wimp cravenly capitulating to the wicked religio-fascist military industrial corporatocracy every single opportunity granted to smooch corporate hiney….


KUCINICH - SANDERS 2012!

I’ve swirled the centrist bowl longer than I will ever live long enough to appreciate. Time to lean left for real!

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, September 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Centrist compromises?  The senate bill should be called
The Health Insurance Industry Protection Act of 2009. 
That’s what it is and that’s what it should be called.

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By glider, September 21, 2009 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

“We were paying these exorbitant subsidies to bankers who were taking government money, loaning it to somebody else, getting government guarantees that the loans would be paid back, and then taking all these profits”

Wow, I am stunned that Congress has passed this bill!!!  Now if they would acknowledge this applies to all loans that commercial banks make.  The Banksters are taking printed money backed by the US government and charge interest for it and multiplying their profits 10-fold by the great banking scam known at fractional reserve banking.  At best they take a real deposit (but it can be just Fed Reserve printed money) and loan it out over and over again so that your $100,000 deposit becomes $1,000,000 in collectible loans, interest payments, and foreclosures.  Imagine how much taxes would drop, and social conditions improve, if the government would take over this process and use the interest payments for social good instead of Bankster profits.  It is also the root of why 30% of your taxed go to pay interest on the national debt.  This is the great con game of our times that is obfuscated from the public by raising the complexity of the scam to a level that can not be comprehended by the public at large.

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tropicgirl's avatar

By tropicgirl, September 21, 2009 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment

E.J.,  It is your own Obama who touts the usage here… bipartisanship and
centrism… can you tell us what HE means by these words? HE was the one who
ditched the single payer and brought the whole discussion to the right, off the
bat.

And just like you correctly analyzed the student loan vote… THE EXACT SAME
THING COULD BE DONE WITH HEALTH CARE. Most of my conservative friends
DO NOT CARE if there is a public option, even favor it, if OBAMA WOULD JUST
STAY THE HELL OUT OF MANAGING CORPORATIONS AND GIVING THEM
TAXPAYER MONEY.

E.J. - Allowing single payer (Medicare expanded) to exist with health insurance
companies (not bailed out) is a conservative and liberal supported idea. BUT
OBAMA AND THE CENTRIST ARE THE ONES THAT ARE MAKING THIS MORE
COMPLICATED.

E.J., I don’t think you really have a grip on who has what position. Perhaps it is
Obama that is confusing you.

““Olympia Snowe may be the single Republican who could vote for health care
reform…”“.  Really? What Olympia Snowe would vote for doesn’t even come
close to health care reform.

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By The Mad Loon, September 21, 2009 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

The minority that oppose true reform even though doing so is against their own interests are garnering all the attention not only because of the traditional medias bias towards their ruling class masters, but because they have mobilized while the majority sits at home in despair.

The majority must remain silent no longer, not just on this issue but on trade,war and economics to name a few.

The only time the unwashed masses get anything of value is when our masters fear that we are about to send them to the guillotine.

Remember there are a heck of a lot more of us than them. We must ignore their tactics of division and unite to take our world back from them.Then and only then would we know true freedom. One can only hope that the Tea Partyers will one day come to realize this.

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By KDelphi, September 21, 2009 at 11:25 am Link to this comment

E.J., you tried to make a very good analogy here, then you backed down for fear of not seeming 100% supportive of Obama and the Dems policies

Here:

Liberals are always accused of spending money without worrying where it comes from, but in this case, costs are covered by making a government program more efficient—yes, at the expense of bankers. (substitute the word “insurance industry executives”)

“We were paying these exorbitant subsidies to bankers (insurance indutry executives)who were taking government money, (giving) it to somebody else, getting government guarantees that the loans would be paid back, and then taking all these profits,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the bill’s champion. This, he told me, led Congress to ask itself: “Hey, chump, what is it you don’t get about what’s going on here?”(Yeah!)

After that, I wqas looking for, something like, “..and the insurance industry is the same in that it provides no justifiable servidces..” as the bankd provide no schooling. But, you didnt , INstead you supported the “pubic option” again, ignoring that the insurance indsutry provides no medical services. As in here:“The same distortions have affected the health care debate. Opponents of a public insurance option don’t want to talk about what it actually is—one alternative that would expand choice in the insurance marketplace. Instead, they pretend that it would amount to (that phrase again) a “government takeover” of health care.

But that would be true only if individuals themselves freely chose the public plan in overwhelming numbers, and the public plan has already been so hemmed in that its share of the market will be limited…”
We dont need a pubic option—we need NO insurance industry. What service do they provide? Wall St has become a group of elitist middle men who do no work, but profit from others’ misery. It is immoral and should be illegal.

Good points, Mad Loon, my thoughts (not words) exactly. Too bad that many who need it the most cannot be in the streets of DC, but those who can should be there for them, as many of them have been for others in the past.

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By The Mad Loon, September 21, 2009 at 11:00 am Link to this comment

Sadly the one option that would rein in costs while insuring everyone is off the table.Western nations with universal health care enjoy better outcomes in virtually every category.

It is estimated that Canadian employers have a 5 to 7 $/hr advantage over their American counterparts in labor costs due to reduced health care costs.In addition employees of firms in nations with universal health care tend to be healthier resulting in less time missed and greater productivity.

As well since no one is denied care the only way to reduce costs to the system is to invest in preventative medicine. (Again reduced costs, better outcomes)

For those who want single payer the only way you are going to get it is to fill the streets of DC with millions of people instead of billions of lobby dollars.

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