Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 Democrats Need to Learn Lessons of 1960s Democrats: Lie

NPR recently interviewed James Morone, who co-authored a book entitled, "The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office." The interview centered on how President Lyndon Johnson pushed Medicare through Congress until its ultimate passage. Mr. Morone and Renee Montagne, who interviewed him for NPR, both assume great current public support for Medicare, and this assumption is what allows them to reveal a remarkable fact about how Medicare was sold to the public all those years ago. Morone obtained tapes of phone conversations President Johnson had with members of Congress as he guided Medicare through the political process, including one such conversation with noted public health care advocate Ted Kennedy,
"Johnson maneuvered every step of the way, getting this bill through Congress. And one of the things he did - and this is a little dicey in today's climate. One of the things he did was suppress the costs. So this young kid gets elected from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, in 1962. And Johnson is explaining to him how you get a health bill through. And what he tells him is don't let them get the cost projected too far out, because it'll scare other people.

Pres. JOHNSON: A health program yesterday runs 300 million, but the fools had to go to projecting it down the road five or six years. And when you project the first year, it runs 900 million. Now I don't know whether I would approve 900 million the second year or not. I might approve 450 or 500. But the first thing Dick Russell comes running in, saying my God, you've got a billion dollar program for next year on health, therefore I'm against any of it now. Do you follow me?

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Yes, right.

Mr. MORONE: We believe after looking at the evidence - my co-author and I -that if the true cost of Medicare had been known, if Johnson hadn't basically hidden them, the program would never have passed. America's second-most beloved program would never have happened if we had had genuine cost estimates. "
Now, the title of this post is written somewhat in jest. Democrats don't really need to learn the lessons from their 60's counterparts. They're well on their way to upping the ante.

Putting aside for the moment many of the lies and misrepresentations regarding health care reform we've seen in the last couple of months (from a public option not leading to single payer, or that you'll get to keep your current insurance if you want to, to the President's fact-bending health care speech to Congress), we can focus on and find parallels to President Johnson's cost concealing Medicare push with what President Obama has done with the costs of the proposals we've seen so far.

The original bill making waves in Congress had a Congressional Budget Office price tag of over $1 trillion. Having learned the lessons of Medicare, Democrats couldn't allow that number to be taken seriously, so they went about trying to discredit the CBO's numbers,

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"it's always been a source, yes I will say frustration, for many of us in Congress that the CBO will always give you the worst case scenario"

Senator Tom Harkin:

"The way CBO scores some things sometimes doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- I mean, real-life sense,"

Senator Chris Dodd:

"One of the things that's disappointing about CBO -- and frustrating -- is all the work…done on prevention" that the CBO doesn’t factor in"

The President also voiced his "concern" over CBO numbers, saying the CBO doesn't give him credit for all the savings included in the bill which would offset many of the costs. What he neglects to mention is that the CBO did in fact account for those measures, and found they wouldn't save money at all. In fact, they likely will add to the costs. But no matter, these statements from Democratic stalwarts aren't meant to be used in factual debates; rather, their purpose is to cast enough doubt on the CBO numbers so that they can more readily ignore the independent group's cost projections.

Cost projections which could very well be on the low end. By law, CBO projections only go out ten years. So other groups have projected beyond that horizon and found significantly higher costs. Which is not surprising, considering recent studies showing government consistently underestimates the true costs of programs. So consistently, in fact, that it's apparent this underestimation is not done by accident. No, it would seem politicians have all learned President Johnson's lesson very well.

11 comments:

Jason The said...

It used to be fun to come here and argue with you when you were making salient points.

You're not even trying anymore.

This is so full of logical absurdities I can't even get mad about it.

Very disappointed.

Charles D said...

The key lesson Democrats need to learn from the 1960's is that a sitting President has a lot of power to jawbone politicians in his party to support his positions. What they have is a President who mouths vague generalities and then does nothing whatever to achieve his stated agenda.

The problem is not the high cost of a public option, the problem is the high cost of health care for this nation and our rather miserable outcome statistics. A real public option would save money because it would force insurance companies to either be competitive on price, performance and customer service or go belly up. A real public option would force drug companies and hospitals to negotiate lower prices. If we had a single-payer plan we would save even more money even quicker.

We could cut the average American's expenditure on medical care and insurance by at least 20% with a universal single payer plan. That's another lesson we need to learn from the 1960's. If you set up a compromised program it will cost you more in the long run because incompetent and uncaring right-wing politicians will chip away at it every chance they get.

Cameron said...

Jason,

See the post above this one.

Charles,

"a sitting President has a lot of power to jawbone politicians"

Johnson and the 60's era Congress lied. That's how they got Medicare passed. Period.

Much of what has been said about the "benefits" of a public option is lies as well.

Charles D said...

I'm not a big fan of the public option since it doesn't go far enough to lower costs or provide universal coverage, but what lies are you referring to?

Regardless of the cost estimates of the CBO, the nation will as a whole spend less on health care with a strong public option than they do now. Of course the bill that is actually coming out of the sausage factory is really designed to take money from lower middle class taxpayers and put it directly into the pockets of the big health insurance companies with no real controls over what they do in return. That's thanks in large part of conservative opposition.

A real health insurance reform (single-payer) would probably cost America 25-30% less than we are paying now and provide far better outcomes and universal coverage. The only difference is that you would be paying money in taxes rather than paying money to an insurance company, and that you would be paying less money and getting more for it. But cost-savings are only important if they help big business, not if they help individuals.

Cameron said...

I highlighted a few of the lies in the post. Then I went on and described how the true costs of the health care plans then being discussed were being hidden; in effect, lied about.

Charles D said...

The real problem is not about differences of opinion about the cost of a watered-down health insurance reform. The problem is the high cost of health care in America. If we had an administration with a leader like LBJ to push legislation through, we could get real reform - a single payer system - and reduce costs far more than the public option plan could do.

The other salient fact is that we can easily pay for a single-payer system by merely requiring employers and employees to pay 70-80% of what they now pay in premiums in a tax. That would insure everyone, keep costs low, improve outcomes, and save everyone money.

Cameron said...

"an administration with a leader like LBJ"

You mean one where they lie about the true costs of things so the public won't oppose them? That's pretty much what we've got. They're not being quite as successful as LBJ was, but it's not for a lack of trying. There's just too much readily available information nowadays.

Charles D said...

Cameron, I'm not aware of a President who didn't lie, at least not in my lifetime. I don't know of a single President who didn't misrepresent the cost of some expenditure or tax reduction that he wanted to pass. That seems to be the SOP for Washington.

What LBJ was able to do is leverage his experience and call in his chits from many years in the Senate to convincingly persuade lawmakers from his own party to vote for his key programs even though it might hurt them back home with their constituents. Johnson knew that there were a lot of pressures and a lot of powerful interest groups that could derail important legislation and he made sure that they didn't stop his key priorities.

Obama, on the other hand, makes pretty speeches about how he supports this or that, but he does virtually nothing to get legislation through the Congress. He stands by and lets the interest groups (the very ones he campaigned against) turn well-meaning legislation into a giant funnel pouring taxpayer dollars into their pockets. LBJ for all his faults (and they were many) actually got his stuff passed.

Cameron said...

"What LBJ was able to do is leverage his experience and call in his chits from many years in the Senate to convincingly persuade lawmakers from his own party to vote for his key programs even though it might hurt them back home with their constituents."

So you're saying the citizens didn't want it, yet they passed it anyway. Well, that's totally different than lying. And much better.

Look, neither one of us likes the health care bills currently in Congress. But the fact of the matter is that our politicians are lying to us. Saying that all politicians lie is not a very good defense of our current crop.

Frank Staheli said...

It's too bad that Jason clicked the "Publish Your Comment" button before he got around to publishing his litany of your supposed logical absurdities.

Democrats have rallied so much more closely around their Fuhrer than the Bush republicans ever did theirs. I expected better of them. The thing that Jason and others who continue to support Obama never seem to even think of anymore is that WE ARE IN DEBT up to Andre the Giant's eyeballs (I just watched Princess Bride a couple nights ago--thus the metaphor). They screamed bloody murder when Bush was spending like a drunken sailor on our military. Now, Obama has assumed the role of the drunken sailor PLUS lying to us about how expensive the new health care boondoggle will be. But Jason no longer even bats an eyelash. He is effectively drinking Jim Jones's koolaid.

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