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Bill Moyers: Obamacare – The Right Wing’s Alamo

Part of the Series

Bill takes on the Republican Party for their relentless attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act.

As Republican members of Congress demand apologies and administration officials dutifully offer up mea culpas for the botched Obamacare rollout, Bill wonders, wouldn’t it be fair to expect just a morsel of apology from the right as well?

The right has been relentless in its battle against the Affordable Care Act – as if it’s their version of the Alamo, Bill says. Despite the law’s passage and its constitutionality upheld by the Supreme Court, they refuse to give up, even shutting down the government to try to force a delay of funding: “And yet, the darn thing survived, despite the administration’s own serious mistakes.” What’s more, Bill points out, this isn’t the first time a major government initiative hasn’t gone according to plan. Where are the apologies from the other side for the war in Iraq? “Mission Accomplished” indeed.


BILL MOYERS: During the Republican hearings on the meltdown of ObamaCare’s website, Representative David McKinley of West Virginia knew what he wanted.

REP. DAVID McKINLEY: I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public. […] Are apologies not in order? […] I’ve just, I’ve not heard the word, I’m sorry. […] Apologize. […] I don’t understand why there’s not an apology. […] But, I apologize. I haven’t heard that from any one of the four of you.

BILL MOYERS: He got it.

MARILYN TAVENNER: I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: You deserve better. I apologize.

BILL MOYERS: Considerate, appropriate, and futile. The apology didn’t squelch the partisan tirades or quench the Republican thirst for revenge, their outrage that the Affordable Care Act, that is, ObamaCare, even got this far. But it did provoke some of us to wonder, isn’t it fair to also expect at least a tiny bit of remorse, just a morsel of apology, from the Republicans? As NPR’s astute health care reporter Julie Rovner reminded us recently.

JULIE ROVNER:: When it became clear that HHS would need more money to build the federal exchange than had been allocated in the original law, Republicans in Congress refused to provide it.

BILL MOYERS: So to get it started, officials had to scrape together money from a variety of other offices. This happened back in the thirties after congress passed Social Security but failed to sufficiently fund the board that was supposed to run it. Republican opponents of ObamaCare have gone further. After it passed they stalked it like Jack the ripper.

In the states, through the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, which, uh-oh, ruled it constitutional. In last year’s election, when they lost again. But quit? Never. For Republicans, this has become their Alamo.

In July, less than three months before scheduled launch, the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, drew one more line in the sand.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER:: ObamaCare is bad for America. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that it never happens.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, the darn thing survived, despite the administration’s own serious very mistakes. As Rovner reported, Obama’s people naively figured Republican states couldn’t resist all that cash coming down from the federal government and would decide to create their own insurance exchanges and expand their Medicaid programs.

Not so. Republicans, it seems, have their principles, and health care for poor people is not one of them. Ideology trumped money.

Republicans aside, ObamaCare had its own built-in problem, born of original sin. And some of us have to resist the temptation to say, “We told you so!” Four years ago we said the public option in health care, a kind of Medicare for all, would be easier to launch and simpler to operate than the Rube Goldberg contraption that came to be known as ObamaCare. Rube Goldberg, for those of you under a certain age, was the fellow who designed machines that made simple tasks much more complicated.

Back in 2009, when Obama first became president, polls showed the public option was a popular idea. Lots of Americans were fed up with paying bloated premiums to giant insurance companies that charged us for their plutocratic salaries and excessive profit margins. We wanted an alternative. And once upon a time, so did candidate Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA:: Now, if I were designing a healthcare system from scratch, I would probably move more in the direction of a single payer plan.

BILL MOYERS: But as President, Obama buckled when conservative Senate Democrats, yes, Democrats, threatened to join Republicans in a filibuster if his plan included a public option.

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN:: —that I’m prepared to move against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government run public option is included.

BILL MOYERS: The biggest pill among those corporate Democrats was industry lapdog Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. At one point Baucus even had advocates thrown out of his hearings:

SEN. MAX BAUCUS:: I’m sorry. There will be order. Can we have a recess until order can be restored.

ADVOCATE:: —want a single payer system. Why do you insist on spending more money when the single payer will give it to us at the price we’re spending now?

BILL MOYERS: Still, ObamaCare made its way through the gauntlet of mercenary senators, predatory lobbyists, and greedy corporations to become law.

Rube Goldberg would have been a very happy man. His principle, why do something simple when it can always be made harder, carried the day. And by the time it became law the Affordable Care Act was a monstrosity of complexity.

Sure enough, on opening day, what the Republicans couldn’t accomplish happened anyway. Screens froze. Error messages flew. Data was corrupted. The system broke down, and ObamaCare stalled at the starting gate.

Supporters gaped at the wreckage of their best-laid plans, opponents gloated, and Republicans, of course, called hearings, which any opposition party would have done. But you must note the irony here, the party that had thrown roadblock after roadblock wherever they could and had just shut the government down to stop health care reform, now loudly complained that government wasn’t working and people couldn’t get, you guessed it, health care reform.

REP. DAVID McKINLEY:: Apologize. […] Apologize […] An apology.

BILL MOYERS: Ok, Representative McKinley, you got it. But wouldn’t a little humility would be in order here? Democracy is imperfect, and we need to work with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is the Affordable Care Act. We also need to remember that at the outset, big ventures often go awry. Not just in the public sector. Remember when Apple introduced the iPhone4 in June of 2010?

STEVE JOBS:: We’re having a little problem here.

BILL MOYERS: Steve Jobs couldn’t get it to connect to the internet. Embarrassing, but they worked it out. When Facebook went public last year a “technical error” in NASDAQ’s system delayed the start of trading, resulting in a loss to market makers of half a billion dollars.

And those of you old enough to know who Rube Goldberg was may recall the rollout of the Edsel, a Ford motor company automobile so awful its name still is synonymous with a costly flop.

And let’s not talk about Lehman brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, JPMorgan Chase. The crash of ’08. Beside those calamities, ObamaCare’s computer problems pale.

Oh, yes, mistakes are made by big corporations and big government. And although I was for something else, something simpler and easier to manage, I’m betting this will get fixed.

As for those strident partisan voices crowing over ObamaCare’s first bad round, ask yourself if those weren’t some of the same voices cheering on the invasion of Iraq and promising victory would be swift and easy. Ten years. Trillions of dollars. And all those lost and wrecked lives. Have we heard any apology?

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