Obama Fires Back

Speaking to House members of the Republican Party in Baltimore, Maryland this Friday, President Barack Obama defended the measures which his administration has enacted over the past year as cameras rolled. The president took questions, corrected misstatements and blamed Republicans for distorting the true intentions and effects of his policies. So successful was his performance that Republican aides anonymously admitted that televising the encounter had been a “mistake”. The Huffington Post delighted in Obama’s “schooling” of Republicans whereas Fox News cut away from the broadcast twenty minutes before it ended.

After delivering a speech in which he reiterated the importance of continued dialogue between the party in power and the opposition, the president took questions, from Congressman Michael Pence for instance. Pence pointed at high job losses and wondered why the administration wouldn’t advocate tax cuts. Obama responded by reminding the congressman that hundreds of thousands of American lost their jobs already before his administration took office. The stimulus subsequently did include tax cuts which benefited a great majority of the American people. Such “component parts of the Recovery Act,” said the president, “are consistent with what many of you say are important things to do.” Which is perfectly true.

It were Bush era policies which caused the recession in the first place and economically, in spite of all the rhetoric, there is really little difference between the major parties nowadays. Neither speaks in favor of free markets. Neither opposes massive government interventions in private businesses nor renewed protectionist measures that are intended to safeguard American jobs but actually hurt trade and investment. Indeed, Obama bluntly admitted, “I am not an ideologue.” He is a pragmatist in the fullest sense of the word which means that his administration won’t fight anything that isn’t “practical” — except that in order to determine “practicality”, one still needs some sense of morality.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee confronted the president on health-care reform and claimed that the Republicans had, in fact, many alternatives to offer that would not create “more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer.” Obama recognized that and reminded the congresswoman that several Republican proposals, as allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines, have been adopted by Democrats. “But the caveat is, we’ve got to do so with some minimum standards,” he said, “because otherwise what happens is that you could have insurance companies circumvent a whole bunch of state regulations about basic benefits.”

Yet such state regulations are exactly part of the reason why health insurance is so expensive in the United States. Rather than adjusting a health-care reform bill to existing obstructions, the president should not blame insurers beforehand but allow them to operate throughout the entire country, as is the norm in most other lines of business, while acknowledging what created the problem in the first place: intrusive government regulation.

Unfortunately, Congresswoman Blackburn failed to bring this up. Her party has polluted the health-care debate by presenting it as “some Bolshevik plot,” as the president put it. He scolded the Republicans for inventing such fantasies and accusing the Democrats of not involving them in the decisionmaking process. “You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”

Some civility “instead of slash and burn would be helpful,” said Obama. “The problem we have sometimes is a media that responds only to slash-and-burn-style politics.”

Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas was last up to ask the president about America’s mounting public debt. “We know that under current law, that government — the cost of government is due to grow from 20 percent of our economy to 40 percent of our economy,” said Hansarling, “right about the time our children are leaving college and getting that first job.” The national debt, meanwhile, “has increased 30 percent,” according to the Texas representative.

Obama retorted by reminding those present that his administration inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit, compared to the $200 billion surplus left by the Clinton Administration in 2000. True — the George W. Bush presidency left quite the financial mess to be dealt with. That, however, does not excuse the massive spending which Obama also favors.

Altogether, apart from some beatings which the Republicans more than deserved for playing politics rather dirty in recent years, Obama’s tone was far from belligerent. Indeed, repeatedly he stressed that his administration was open to new ideas and cooperation.

As admirable as one might think of the president’s search for consensus, every time he opens the door for bipartisanship, the Republicans will retreat further, demanding that he and the Democrats sacrifice more of their principles which subsequently sours their public approval ratings.

People don’t want a president who appears to be without convictions. They voted Obama into office because they didn’t think the Republicans were doing much of a stellar job at governing under President Bush. If he truly wants to reform health care, reform the financial sector, bring more transparency to government while repairing America’s shattered relationships overseas, he shouldn’t seek advice so much from the very people who failed to do so during the past eight years.

Why America’s Health Care is Broken

Following up on our coverage about the polluted health-care debate and its citation of the disproportionately high costs of medical care per capita in the United States compared to other First World countries, this article will answer the simple question of how it all came to be so bad.

Today, almost half of all spending on health care in the United States is government spending. Ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid through the Social Security Act of 1965, health care in the United States has come to be understood as a right rather than a product to be traded voluntarily on a free market — like food, clothing, and so many other goods and services are. This entitlement mentality directly brought about the current third-party-payer system: a blend of government programs, as Medicare and Medicaid, and government-controlled employer-based insurance.

All was done in good intention — to relieve people of the supposed burden of paying for their own health care. But as a result, health-care costs skyrocketed. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, expenditures were soaring so out of control that the government intervened, with more coercive measures: price controls were imposed on medical services; medical benefits were cut; and every aspect of the medical industry was thoroughly regulated.

Quite possibly the greatest restriction on free health case is the American employer-based system. Tax laws have made individually purchased insurance far more expensive; far too expensive for many people to afford. As a result, they are bound to their employer (diminishing their full freedom on the labor market) and oftentimes, to whatever insurance their employer decides to provide for them.

An American citizen’s inability to buy whatever insurance from whatever company is further infringed upon by the mandates required by state insurance boards. Companies and individuals are forced to purchase insurances that cover all sorts of treatments that the state may deem necessary; prenatal and psychiatric care, for instance. The costs of insurance go up of course while the consumer is left with fewer options. In many states, it is simply impossible for a person to insure himself again medical catastrophe alone. In no state is the health insurance business a free market anymore.

Another obstructing factor is that for many treatments, states require licensed physician to carry them out — even when it concerns a simple procedure that an experienced nurse can perform with or without supervision. But because a doctor must be involved, the costs of treatment are higher, therefore, so is the insurance.

Today, health care in the United States is still among the most expensive in the world while in spite of decades of government financing and regulation, tens of millions of people are left uninsured. America’s health care system is in desperate need of reform. Unfortunately, the reformers promise only more government interference all the while blaming the market for not providing adequate, cheap medical care. In truth, there never has been a truly free insurance market since the end of World War II, in virtually no Western country.

The Polluted Health Care Debate

The United States Senate sets to vote on a health-care bill over Christmas this Tuesday after what have been months of fierce political debate. As the opposition warned of “socialized medicine” and “death panels”, public support for “Obamacare” and the president himself understandably plummeted.

Although America’s health care is among the most expensive yet one of the most restricted systems in the world, people began to fear that under the Democrats’ plans, they would face a further decline in quality against ever rising costs. Strangely enough, people also indicated that by majority that health care today is too costly on the whole and that it placed a serious burden on the already fragile American economy. President Obama repeatedly stressed that America’s health care is in desperate need of reform but critics seem to have a point when they say that the Democrats will only make it more expensive.

Unfortunately, Republicans prefer instead to devise little doomsday scenarios and warn people that their elderly will soon be put to death if the Democrats have their way. They point at countries as Canada and the United Kingdom and say, “look how bad things are over there.” In fact, health care in these both countries is far from terrible.

In spite of the rather communist qualities of the British National Health Service, it operates at a lower cost per capita ($2,560, compared to $6,096 for the United States in 2007) while providing better care (PDF). Canada on the other hand, while much cheaper per capita than the American system, provides an approximately similar quality of care. It would appear then that a collectivization of health care doesn’t necessarily make things better or worse. A lot of other factors are in play.

Rather than denouncing “socialized medicine” as being impractical therefore, opponents should point out that it is immoral.

The NHS in Britain was established after the end of World War II, in 1948, with the express purpose of providing health care to all, “regardless of wealth.” Its principles were that the service should “meet the needs of everyone,” “be free at the point of delivery” and “be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.” This gave all Britons a right to proper care, no matter whether they were able to afford it or not. Need, not ability became the standard according to which care would henceforth be distributed.

This is a strange twist of ethics. Imagine that the law were to give people a right to much more basic needs than health care such as food and shelter. No such laws exist of course, for if people indeed are entitled to such rights, others must inevitably provide for them at their own expense.

Granting people a right to health-care demands that others provide such care, for free if necessary. Only a government can allocate care under such conditions for few individual doctors and nurses would go about their work unpaid any more than a supermarket would remain in business for long if it is to meet peoples’ “right to food”.

Even the Republicans, supposedly the champions of the free market, dare not question the alleged right to health care in the United States. Probably because they know how most people would respond to such criticism: “Should we just stand by then and let people die?” they’ll ask

Perhaps proponents of collectivization are only more than willing to pay so that others need not insure themselves but as long as they can’t answer the simple question, “Why shouldn’t we?” to their own charge without speaking of non-existent rights and undeserved charity, no man should be held responsible for the health and care of others against his own choice.

That is what opponents of “Obamacare” should have argued. Because they didn’t, collectivized health care is now likely to become a reality in the United States.

Reid Compares Health Care to Abolitionism

Speaking before the Senate on December 6 Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid compared the struggle for health-care reform to the abolition of slavery. The Republican naysayers, he stated, reminded him of the people “who dug in their heels and said slow down” when the United States “belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery.”

Was it not a Republican president who abolished slavery? Was it not the Republican Party that was willing to wage civil war on the issue? Were it not Republicans who passed the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866? Were it not Republicans who established the Freedmen’s Bureau? And was it not a majority of Republicans who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over considerable opposition from Southern Democrats? It is not surprising therefore that up until President Johnson launched his “Great Society” many African Americans voted Republican.

Since the 1960s the two parties have switched roles somewhat. Once progressive, today’s Republican Party is a conservative movement, in recent years heavily influenced by the Christian Right while the Democrats, once staunchly conservative and even separatist are now politically leftist.

When it came to acknowledging “the wrongs of slavery” however it were Democrats “who dug in their heels and said slow down” up until the 1960s. Republicans by then had fought against slavery and segregation for more than a hundred years.

Reid doesn’t do himself nor his party a particular service by drawing the country’s painful history with racism into the modern day health-care debate. His misreading of that history is offensive and bound to further discredit the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care in the United States.