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Kucinich: ‘I’m Just Trying to Do the Best I Can’
Posted on Mar 20, 2010
J.S.: It’s just interesting to me. I know what you’re talking about, but it does seem like everyone talks about socialism and spending money. This seems to have more of the idea of this big government and there’s a lot of money on the line.
D.K.: What do you mean?
J.S.: A trillion ...
D.K.: Health care in America right now, Josh, approximately 2.4, 2.5 trillion dollars a year is spent on health care in America. It takes about 16 to 17 percent of our gross domestic product. [We had this wrong in our transcript. This figure has been fixed. -Ed.]
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P.S.: So when people talk about the difficulty of, one of these arguments against a single-payer system is that it’s too big a part of our economy to reform health care. But isn’t that what’s so alarming?
D.K.: Actually, we’re not voting on single-payer tomorrow, to my regret, but one out of every three dollars goes for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork. This is part of the waste that’s inherent in a for-profit system. It’s going to take years to reconstruct that system. Single-payer saves money, it covers more people, it’s more comprehensive, but we’re not talking about that, unfortunately. We’re talking about a for-profit system and the president has made the case for reform within the context of a for-profit system. After the vote passes, I think we’ll find a clarification across the board as to what this bill is. One thing it isn’t, it’s not socialized medicine, so whatever the Rush Limbaughs of the world have tried to do to depict this as a government-run system, no, it’s not.
P.S.: Do you have a prediction for the vote?
D.K.: I think it’ll win by one vote.
P.S.: Really, it’s that close?
P.S.: While you’ve been lobbying other members to pass the bill, was there anything—you touched on this earlier—but was there anything that was expressed to you that was really an “aha” moment that made this a lesser evil? … What’s in the bill that you’re most excited about, eventually? We know what you don’t like about it.
D.K.: Yeah, I wish I could tell you that I’ve been going around saying “Oh, this is great.” No, I haven’t done that because, you know what, this, to me, is a political equivalent of castor oil. OK? Now somebody has told me, “I’ll take castor oil, I’m going to feel about it, or I’m about to find out. I’m not trying to sell the benefits of castor oil; I made a decision based on a belief that by keeping this bill alive, and passing it, we create a space for not just an ongoing discussion, but for a more comprehensive approach towards health care reform.
P.S.: You said this was one of the most difficult moments in your political life. I don’t know if that’s mischaracterizing it? ... .
D.K.: It’s a difficult moment, no question about it, because the criticisms I’ve made of this bill are well known. But not only that, it is my advocacy for health care has been for a totally different system.
P.S.: So how do you respond to these people on the left, lefty blogs, who’ve been giving you heat over this? I don’t know if that’s even been on your radar ... .
D.K.: We think that if we are responsible for killing this bill, it is unlikely that we’ll be in a position to have any influence on the debate later on. And that while I reject, I fundamentally disagree with for-profit health care, this bill brings reforms within the context of a for-profit health care system. And so I’m going to continue to work to propel reforms at a state level because I think it will be very hard to do it nationally for a long time, but I think at a state level we can achieve a breakthrough that can one day result in a national system, but we should think about this. Think about what happens. This is what I had to come down to on this, as a decision. Let’s say we defeat it. What do we do the day after? Do we go back and convince Congress that it’s worth another try on health care? It’s the best we’ve been able to do in the last few decades: a 16-year gap between the Clinton proposal and the Obama proposal. And people need to think about that. I have not in any way, shape or form abandoned my commitment to single-payer, but this is not the bill that I wanted. But as it is, the only way that I can achieve any credibility on behalf of my constituents, and those who believe in progressive politics, is to, in these circumstances, is to help this bill stay alive, and create an opportunity to be part of a close and intense reshaping of the health care system as we move forward, and I think now I am in a much harder position than I was before, frankly.
J.S.: And I think, Peter, it’s the life of a politician, because the congressman was getting attacked from the centrists, far worse by the way from the left and the right, not the right now. Now you change your position, and other people hate you. You always have someone who doesn’t like what you do.
D.K.: I’m always thinking about how does this affect people back home? I have a compass on my desk, it points north, and it reminds me where true north is, which is where my home is in Cleveland, Ohio. And when I think about the decisions that I make, I have to think about people in the neighborhoods who are just struggling to make ends meet, and what kinds of hopes they may have for the future. I know I’ve got to be very careful about the implications of the decisions I make. When you stake out a position that some see as ideologically intractable, you run the risk of marginalizing yourself. Now there are times, and I’ve really been in this position, because I’m usually the last one standing on a lot of issues, and on this one, I felt that the greater good was to be accomplished by permitting this bill to live and being part of an effort to continue to reshape health care. And people who I’ve talked to in Congress or are involved in the leadership, have expected my intention to participate in that reshaping of it. They essentially have, like it or not, brought in a partner in an endeavor to continue to reshape the nature of health care in America. And again, I don’t go back on anything I’ve said, any criticisms of the bill. But this is a moment when you’re in a pivotal position you can decide to either go forward or sit tight and hope that somehow you can reshape that opportunity to bring something else forward, and that somehow there are going to be socioeconomic pressures that will bring things forward, and Congress doesn’t necessary work that way here. And there’s one other thing that I wanted to mention. Aside from the concerns I have about my constituents, I have a concern about the president, too. President Obama and I have had difference of opinion on many, many issues, whether there are bailouts or cap-and-trade, he and I have our differences. But the potential of his presidency is still unfolding. If this bill goes down, it also has an effect on his presidency. It ruins his capacity to be an effective president. And it will have an adverse effect across the boards. now some may say, well good, there are things he won’t be able to do ... well, it’s not good, because he has to function, he’s the chief executive officer of the nation. We have to be careful that we don’t cripple his ability to deal with some of the broader issues that deal with the economy and jobs, education, peace, you know, again I reserve the right to object, to disagree with him on any and everything. But there’s a point at which you have to look at the broad implications of this pivotal decision on health care, because it’s not only about health care. It’s about a lot of other things, too. And there are lot of things that figure into my decision and that certainly was one of them.
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