Let me get this straight. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have miraculously just come to a silky-smooth bipartisan budget agreement that rips the feathers right off the deficit hawks and kills the Obama-era Sequester and fake debt ceiling crises all in one swoop.
The catch is that the debt ceiling truce is only for two years. So if a Democrat wins the White House and the GOP holds the Senate, it will be back to deficit hawkery as a bipartisan weapon to kill any possible resurgence of the New Deal.
Meanwhile, Trump is happy because the deal protects the war machine and “our veterans” and contains no poison pills that would nauseate rich people. The Democrats will not interfere with his border wall, and the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortions will remain. Pelosi is happy because the deal “will enhance our national security and invest in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people.” But Trump being Trump, it is entirely possible that he’ll ultimately refuse to sign it no matter how much he praises it today. And Pelosi being Pelosi, she utters not one single word about helping the tens of millions of people now living in abject poverty in the United States. Bare survival priorities, such as food and shelter, are not the same thing as middle class priorities, which might include such things as somewhat more affordable prescription drugs and protecting our right to purchase expensive health insurance on the predatory marketplace.
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Before we celebrate, therefore, we need to read the fine print in this proposed budget deal. Because whenever politicians “reach across the aisle” in one of those rare bipartisan moments of good feeling, we ordinary people must steel ourselves for the blows that are sure to come. The very fact that the deal was reached so secretly and so hastily and that it must be voted on before the artificial deadline of the Congressional summer recess, is our first clue that bipartisanship is the exact opposite of social and economic justice. This deal must go through before anybody even has a chance to read it.
That’s how many poison pills for struggling people and how many gifts to the oligarchs that this package undoubtedly contains.
Take the issue of the nation’s community health centers, which deal or no deal, appeared to be very much on the bipartisan chopping block as recently as last week. These centers, which serve the poor, are therefore conveniently and cynically exempt from Pelosi’s “middle class priorities.”
The Democratic lawmakers proposing the cuts frame their cruelty in the usual way: in order to be kind and save the poor, they have no choice but to punish and sacrifice the poor, because otherwise the Republican hostage takers will beat the poor into a bloody dead pulp.
As reported by the Washington Post,
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is pushing a bipartisan plan that would provide flat levels of federal funding for hundreds of community health centers nationwide, at about $4 billion for the next four years. A similar plan is advancing in the Senate with the support of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Lawmakers face a September deadline for the community health centers, after which their funding would begin to expire, likely leading to steep cuts. Pallone said the plan would provide the security of the longest guaranteed funding commitment ever secured by the clinics, averting the September cliff. But flat funding would not keep pace with medical inflation, likely forcing the community health centers to serve about 4 million fewer people annually by 2023 than they do now, said Leighton Ku, professor of health policy at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
That prospect has alarmed liberal lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the congressional Progressive Caucus. They argue Democrats should use their control of the House to approve increases in funding for the centers, and then hammer out an agreement with Senate Republicans.
“I was, quite honestly, stunned. It’s just absolutely disastrous, and moving in the wrong direction,” said Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate, in an interview. “We should be substantially increasing funding. I was very, very disappointed by Democratic leadership … We will do everything we can to rectify this.”
We still don’t know if the Trump-Pelosi Manifesto contains the bait and switch method of reducing health care for the poor, or whether it’s a side-deal negotiated apart from the budget agreement.
It is also quite telling that Trump waited until right after the budget agreement was announced to reveal plans to kick three million people off their food stamp benefits. In so doing, he gives credence to Pelosi’s limited boast of protecting the financial interests of the “middle class” — or those living above the poverty levels necessary to qualify for government nutrition assistance.
And speaking of bait and switch, the fact that Bernie Sanders is still going strong, and is even finally getting more refreshingly blunt about such corporate tools as Joe Biden, has finally elicited the full-blown hysteria of New York Times pundit Paul Krugman, who’d so far this campaign season kept his storied anti-Bernie powder dry, mainly by studiously ignoring Bernie Sanders.
Not any more. In a transparently bad-faith “both sides do it” column, ironically subtitled “A Bad Faith Debate Over Health Care Coverage,” Krugman hilariously equates Biden’s mendacity with Bernie’s exposure of his mendacity.
But right now, two of the major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are having an ugly argument about health care that could hurt the party’s chances. There are real, important differences between the two men’s policy proposals, and it’s fine to point that out. What’s not fine is the name-calling and false assertions. Both men are behaving badly. And for their party’s sake, and their country’s, they need to stop it.
Notwithstanding that Krugman cannot point to one single example of Sanders calling Biden any bad names or lying (because he hasn’t) the accusation is simply cover for his main point: he doesn’t want Medicare For All to be a platform in the presidential campaign, even though he likes Single Payer “in theory”. The column is all of a piece with the centrist, or corporate wing of the party, striving to please its deep-pocketed donors at the expense of everybody else. The message is this: you can get rid of Trump, or you can clamor for things that will make your lives better. But you cannot do both. Supporting Medicare For All is the same thing as giving Trump another term. Therefore, everybody please shut up about your damned health. And that includes the 70-80 percent of you in favor of Medicare For All. You’re nothing but a distraction.
Also, now that Pelosi’s attempted diminution of the “Squad’s” championship of single payer health care has spectacularly backfired, the corporate party and its pundits need a new scapegoat with which to undermine Single Payer, even as they pretend to embrace the female members as a means of combating Trump’s racism. Bernie Sanders, an old white guy, fits their bill perfectly. A Democratic legal pundit who hilariously calls herself a “moderate” can even go on MSNBC and complain that he “makes my skin crawl and I don’t know why” with no consequence whatsoever.
Here’s my published response to Krugman, in which I refused to take his slimy personality-politics bait, but instead tried to address the centrist groupthink propaganda that he so shamelessly parrots:
Whenever you hear universal coverage defined as everyone having “access” to “affordable” health care, beware of the bait and switch.
Access to care is not the same thing as guaranteed care. Calling a trip to the doctor or emergency room “affordable” is glib to the point of cruelty, given that the majority of Americans don’t even have $500 in savings.
The standard talking point that “folks” will never accept a Single Payer program because they are loath to give up their wonderful employer-based plans is also pretty cynical. Employers not only change plans regularly, they are increasingly passing the costs of overpriced plans with less coverage along to their workers.
If people are afraid of Medicare For All, it’s mainly because our rulers and their corporate media stenographers, beholden to the insurance cartel and Big Pharma and their Wall Street investors, are making sure they stay very afraid of it. It’s obviously not in their job descriptions to educate people and inform them that the taxes for Single Payer will be far, far lower than what they now pay to the predatory health care marketplace, with the continued risk that they can go bankrupt if they get hurt or sick.
Once Single Payer is passed, and the profit motive goes out of health care, it will be repeal-proof. It will be as popular as Medicare For Some is right now. That’s what has the wealthy donor class shaking in their custom-made shoes: the prospect of too many people becoming healthy and less stressed.