'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Death of Health Care Reform in Real Time (Part 4) 

Now that the industry friendly Baucus bill has escaped the Senate Finance Committee, it is going to move through the Senate and the House like a greased pig, with the approval of the President. But, don't worry, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions are now, finally, going to come off the bench to derail it:
[Gerald] McEntee, [president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees], said Emanuel called him and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on a Sunday last month and asked them not to oppose the legislation while the Finance Committee was considering it. “We didn’t talk to any senators about our opposition,” he said.

Emanuel pressed labor again last week not to oppose the bill once it was approved by the committee, according to McEntee. “That was not the commitment we made,” he said.

Labor leaders have made clear their distaste toward the committee bill since it was proposed last month by Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and the panel’s chairman. Trumka urged labor activists at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh to make the case against it. McEntee led the convention delegates in a chant denouncing the proposal as “bullshit.”

Some labor unions that were included in a draft of the newspaper advertisement didn’t sign on to the final version, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The Service Employees International Union, led by Andy Stern, didn’t sign either version of the ad.

Or are they? And, do really want to? Am I the only one who recognizes what happened here? Passage of the Baucus bill by by the Senate Finance Committee was essential to frame the debate in favor of the insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies and health care providers. Once out of committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with the assistance of the White House and, as we subsequently discovered, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snow, would ensure that there would be no public option or any other measures to contain costs when it was reconciled with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee alternative.

After full Senate approval, the Baucus bill would, after minor alternations through reconciliation to placate the House, finally reach the President's desk for signature. Hence, it was essential to fight for amendments to change the overall thrust of the Baucus bill while it was pending approval in the Finance Committee, and kill it if such amendments were defeated. Where was the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions while the bill was being debated in the Committee? Nowhere. As the Bloomberg article indicates, they had agreed, at the request of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to not publicly express opposition to the bill at that time. In other words, during the most critical period for the passage of health care reform in the Congress, they abandoned the field and left it open for financial interests to get their way.

Now, that the bill is out of committee, they are putting on a big act about how they are opposing the bill over the objections of the White House. Everybody comes out looking like a rose: AFL-CIO leadership tells their members that they went to the wall for their members; the White House basks in the glow of showing its independence from the union movement; the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical companies and health care providers laugh all the way to the bank. Everyone, that is, except the millions of us that will be economically victimized by the "reform".

This isn't the first time that the AFL-CIO has done this since Obama was elected President. Organized labor, which includes the AFL-CIO, as well as its competitor, the Change to Win coalition led by the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters, decided, after Obama's election, to dismantle a network of field organizers that could have pressured Obama and the newly elected Democratic Congress to enact what they describe as their top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act ("EFCA"), an Act designed to enhance and protect the rights of people trying to organize unions in the workplace.

Meanwhile, hundreds of business organzations effectively lobbied Congress to place it in dry dock, where it remains today. Even more embarassing, while national union leadership had given Obama and the Congress a free pass on immediate action, state and local union affiliates were turning out members at raucous rallies, such as the ones that I observed at the State Capital in Sacramento, demanding its passage. They didn't know, and their national leaders didn't want them to know, that maintaining good relations with Obama and the Congress were more important than passing the EFCA.

Sadly, in relation to their latest health care ruse, liberals remain in the dark. Liberals actually seem to believe that the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are defying the White House and trying to prevent the passage of the Baucus bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. One wonders how their members are going to react when they discover that, starting in 2013, many of them are going to be facing a 40% surcharge on portions of the health plans, plans that actually provide decent coverage, because they are considered, in the words of the President and others, Cadillac plans.

One suspects that, in the end, organized labor will soften the blow of this provision during reconciliation, without fully eliminating it, and call it a victory after the Baucus bill is signed. During the inevitable post-mortems, after the dreadful consequences of this "reform" become obvious, it will become evident that labor, liberals and progressive organizations were caught off guard by the rapaciousness of finance capital in seizing upon a social welfare proposal that it had historically opposed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring about one of the most enormous transfers of wealth from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy in US history.

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