This week has brought several pieces of political news that have left me wondering about the future of life in the US.
One of them has to do with the election of the GOP candidate in Massachusetts, which resulted in the disappearance of the filibuster-proof majority the Democrats had in the Senate. While having a balance in power is good, one big concern I now have is what will this do to health care reform.
I can’t think of better words to express this concern than the ones written by this gentleman in his letter to the editor of his local newspaper:
… the results of the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat threatens to undermine the health care reform process in our country. It is ironic that Massachusetts has led the nation in providing for the health care of 99 percent of state residents but the majority of people in our commonwealth reject health care coverage to 30 million of our fellow citizens.
This is the situation as the Senate awaits for a merged bill to come from the House. However, even the prospects for a combined version to pass through the House are bleak as indicated by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Quoting from the Financial Times report:
In its present form, I don’t think it’s possible to pass the Senate bill in the House,” Ms Pelosi told reporters yesterday, after struggling to persuade liberal Democrats in the House to support the Senate’s healthcare plan, which is not as expansive as their own. “I don’t see the votes for it at this time.”
The second piece of news that concerns me this week is last Thursday’s ruling by the US Supreme Court. This is even more concerning because, unlike elections, decisions by the Supreme Court have a very long term impact on the country and the direction things take as a whole over a long time, as opposed to during a shorter period.
In short, as the New York Times explains:
Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
If you want to read the 183-page long decision document, look for Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n in the Supreme Court 2009 Decisions page.
The decision is largely based on free-speech principles, under the assumption that corporations are like individuals. There’s something fundamentally wrong about this conception, because it gives corporations benefits like those of an individual (free-speech, for instance) while not giving the same more obligations (tax obligations, for example).
It’d be naive to argue that this benefits for-profit corporations on an equal basis as not-for-profit corporations for simple mathematical reasons: for-profit companies, by definition (in order to have money left at the end of the day to distribute among shareholders) will have deeper pockets from which to draw to spend supporting political campaigns. Period!
So, I agree with the President’s criticism of the decision (quoting from Huffington Post):
“This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet message. “It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way — or to punish those who don’t.”
Don’t believe this? Read this article… this article… and go to the Money Trail page on OpenCongress, and see for yourself the volume of pre-2009 campaign contributions pouring from special interest groups into congress (ironically, two of the top recipients of contributions in 2008 were John McCain and Hillary Clinton). Do you honestly think this will improve with this week’s court decision? I personally doubt it.
So will healthcare reform take a backseat? Absolutely. But when it’s picked up a few weeks from now, what will come out of the debate? I have lost the few hopes I had for something meaningful to result from healthcare reform. Even more so, I am fundamentally saddened by our future prospects as individuals and as patients (insured or not) in the United States.
So, who moved my healthcare reform? I don’t know… perhaps it wasn’t there in the first place.