Like elves rushing to meet the Christmas Eve deadline, the United States Senate met on a snowy day in our nation’s capital and overcame the hurdle of pushing health care reform forward. Anyone remotely familiar with the machinations of Washington politics knows that two inches of snow on the ground virtually paralyzes the District. Yet this weekend, under a heavy blanket of new winter snow, the 100 sitting members of the Senate debated a bill which all knew would pass along party lines.
The pundits this morning are applauding the “courageous” efforts of Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, for getting the 60 votes he required. In the dead of a cold winter night, during a hectic pre-Christmas weekend, the members of our illustrious United States Senate executed their duties in the darkness of night. And we, the American people, are supposed to be grateful. At what price?
Pundits this morning are heralding the deal made to secure the vote of Senator Nelson of Nebraska. Yet the Republicans who have voiced legitimate concerns are being shut out of the debate. "It's one of the great Bernie Madoff gimmicks that anybody's ever seen," Senator John McCain said today on ABC's Good Morning America. "Republicans were never brought in to the negotiations. This is what you get – a split country – when American people are opposed to what we're doing." He’s right. While the GOP is quite guilty of their own political deviance, it cannot be discounted that Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman prostituted themselves for their own political gain with no regard for what’s really at stake today in America. How is it that a Conservative Democrat from the state of Nebraska, in the heart of the country, can wield so much power? How is it that a whiny, self-serving, “gnomadic” creature like Joseph Lieberman can virtually twist the political scrotum of Harry Reid until Harry blinks? And, in the end, were the American people served?
After watching the Senate debate last night, I retired for the evening with the vote ever present in my mind. As I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, I kept asking myself how is it that Washington is out of touch with Main Street. And, like an angel appearing on a cold winter’s night, it dawned on me. It is not that Washington is out of touch with Main Street. It is the reverse. We, Main Street, the heart and soul of the American economy, are completely out of touch with Washington. We haven’t taken the time to scrutinize the work of those who we elected to serve us. This is a government by the people, for the people, and from the people — until certain people get there. Seduced by the surreal world of Washington, politicians get sucked into a system of greed, corruption, and bureaucracy which confounds even the most intelligent observer. I listened with great intent to the speeches of John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, and Tom Harkin. I don’t doubt their sincerity; however, I do doubt their motivation.
This morning I learned $635 million has been invested by insurance lobbyists over the last two years as they peddle their influence through the halls of Congress. The fact insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws notwithstanding, I need to ask some very simple questions: How many people have died from lack of health care because insurance companies spent two thirds of a billion dollars wielding their power in Washington? How many children have died? How many women have died from breast or ovarian cancer because greedy insurance executives would rather spend insurance premiums on influencing politicians than providing health care?
Insurance company executives are responsible for involuntary manslaughter and any politician who has accepted even one penny from insurance interests are willful accomplices in carrying out the death sentence. We don’t need Sarah Palin’s death panels — they exist. They thrive in the atmosphere known as the Beltway. And we, the American people, need to accept responsibility for creating this environment of rampant corruption and power.
While those on the left deride Joe Lieberman as a turncoat to the cause, let us not forget the demographics of his home state. According to a 2007 summary report issued by then Associate Legislative Attorney Janet L. Kaminski, Connecticut’s economy depends primarily on the insurance industry:
- There are 72 insurance headquarters in Connecticut.
- There were more than 65,000 insurance jobs in Connecticut in 2004. The Connecticut Department of Labor projects a 4% growth rate through 2014, the slowest rate within the insurance and finance sector.
- Connecticut has three times the U.S. average of insurance jobs as a percent of total state employment.
- Connecticut has the highest U.S. concentration of insurance jobs.
- The average annual Connecticut insurance industry wage is $ 61,846, with average wages ranging from about $ 33,000 to $ 118,000.
- Annual state insurance industry payroll exceeds $ 6 billion.
- The total value added by the insurance industry in Connecticut in 2004 was about $ 12. 2 billion.
- Insurance companies purchase almost $ 1 billion in goods and services from other industries in Connecticut annually.
- One new job in the insurance industry results in an additional 1.35 jobs in the Connecticut economy.
- Connecticut insurance companies paid $ 210 million in personal income taxes in 2004 and $ 244 million in premium taxes in 2004-2005.
So, now do you understand the dynamics behind Joe Lieberman’s behavior? This isn’t about improving the lives of regular Americans. Joe Lieberman is in the fight of his political career as he barely maintains hold of his office. He will stop at nothing to remain Senator and if pandering to insurance companies sweetens his political war chest, then so be it. Unfortunately, there are 49 remaining states that have to pay the price for Senator Lieberman’s actions. And, unbeknownst to most of us, the deals cut with Ben Nelson benefit Nebraska while the remaining 49 are left out in the cold. This isn’t forging beneficial legislation. This is politics as usual. And, when all is said and done, the so-called Health Care Reform of 2009-2010 will go down as the biggest political farce in our history.
So, what are we to do? First of all, we need to accept a simple premise: it is not that Washington is out of touch with Main Street. Unless we as a society become actively involved in the political process, it is Main Street which is out of touch with Washington. The collapse of the financial industry over the last 14 months is another example of how we have failed our country. Again, Wall Street is not the one out of touch. Again, it is Main Street. We have been remiss in monitoring legislation which affects our everyday lives. We have failed our children in insuring that they would inherit a country in better shape than it was left to us.
As each generation passes the torch, the torch slowly dims. Not for lack of fuel, but for lack of caring. So, my fellow Americans, let’s try and come up with some New Year’s Resolutions that we will actually believe can be accomplished. There is an election in 2010. Both political parties know what is at stake and they will pull out all the media stops in advancing their respective agendas. But are either agenda worthy of adopting? Under the present political structure, in a word – NO. So, here are a few suggestions for taking back our government and, more importantly our destiny:
- Campaign finance reform must be at the top of the political wish list in 2010. This means reform which excludes special interests from pumping dollars into a corrupt system. And, if we cannot mandate public funding, then how about this? Why doesn’t Congress legislate a cap on how much corporations can pump into the system? Why can’t insurance companies be prohibited from laundering insurance premiums into Congressional payoffs? That’s what they’re doing , folks. If they can afford over a half billion dollars for lobbying, imagine how many lives could have been saved if they were not allowed to use more than .5% of insurance premiums for political gain.
- Term limits. There’s no doubt that the structure of Congress is such that those who serve longest get the political clout and capital while those who are newly elected are virtually shut out of the process. If a President is not allowed to serve more than ten years, then it is time for members of Congress to be on the same bandwagon. I think 11 years (5 ½ terms) for members of the House is more than reasonable while 15 (2 ½ terms) for members of the Senate are sufficient.
- Health care. This bill in its present form must not be allowed to become law. It is time to accept that comprehensive health care reform should not be accomplished in this session of Congress. It is time to take the battle to the streets in political debates across every state in the land. And, like it or not, we capitalists must devise a way to create a health care system that is confined within the not for profit paradigm. Taking care of our own is not a for profit venture and never should have been allowed to develop.
- Public education must require public involvement. Children must be taught the lessons of personal civic responsibility from kindergarten forward. They must be educated in the way government operates and how they can affect the process by getting involved. This includes mandatory national service of no less than two years either in the military or in some government agency where the talents of the young would be an added commodity. And, parents who choose to send their children to public school must be held accountable as well. This means active parental involvement in PTA and school activities. Parents cannot expect excellence from educators if they cannot exhibit excellence in proactive involvement in their child’s education. Teachers within the public education system must also be accountable and unable to hide behind the terms of their respective union contracts. For that matter, no union should be allowed to spend more than .5% of their union dues on political spin.
- Too big to fail? Time to get back to basics folks. No company should grow so large as to have a monopoly. Rupert Murdoch shouldn’t be allowed to have control of entertainment and news. Mickey Mouse should not be allowed to control movie theaters, television programming, and more. Like Nixon broke up the telephone monopolies, it’s time to break up the multi-media conglomerates in a BIG way. We need to encourage more competition. If a giant bank or corporation fails, then the stockholders must take the loss not the American people.
These are just five suggestions on what I would like to see us accomplish next year. But we can’t accomplish a damn thing in this country if we don’t take the first step and get involved!