Friday, August 7, 2009

Don't Confuse Corruption With Centrism

In his July 27 column in the New York Times, Paul Krugman exposes the flawed objections of the Blue Dog or so-called centrist Democrat lawmakers to crucial aspects of proposed health care reforms. Krugman says he's not cynical enough to believe these Democratic holdouts are simply acting to protect special interests who buy them off. But it's hard to see it any other way.

After all, Blue Dogs tout fiscal responsibility and their objections to health reforms are supposedly about how to pay for it and to contain costs. Yet they are the ones also (a) seeking higher payments for selected providers, (b) opposing the public option that is the most effective way of lowering the prices charged by providers benefiting from engineered scarcities or non-competitive practices, and (c) opposing employer mandates that prevent shifting a greater burden on to public funds.

I'd have understood and even welcomed these "centrists" seeking additional cost containment measures. These could include more vigorous support for comparative effectiveness and treatment cost effectiveness studies and criteria, and direct negotiation of drug prices by the government for publicly funded plans. Another of importance is malpractice caps and tort reform that is opposed by liberal Democrats who are beholden to their own lawyer lobbies. Incidentally, Paul Krugman is also silent about this last one, and I'd like to see him be more of an honest broker by attacking this sacred (and also very wasteful) cow on the left. But Blue Dogs by and large are conspicuously quiet on all these issues.

The Republican lawmakers are of course even more sold out to the anti-reform lobbies. They trot out meaningless slogans ("socialized medicine") and flawed logic that a reasonable audience should clearly see through. Still, a recent Gallup poll shows that such attacks gained some traction and support for health care reforms is decreasing. Krugman in his August 7 column also notes this trend - the average Joe can apparently be swayed and misled quite easily. So President Obama needs to step up his roles of countering propaganda, and exposing lawmakers seeking to water down reforms - especially Democrat "centrists" - so they're pressured to do the right thing.

The role of industry lobbies and special interests in obstructing health care reforms should also be seen in the context of a larger problem. That's our failure to have an enlightened approach to pay our lawmakers well and to adequately fund their elections with tax dollars. I've talked about this, including in a separate May 29 blog post on the misplaced outrage over the UK MPs' expenses. Campaign finance reform can also go much further with universal adoption of a clean elections system.

However compelling the logic, lawmakers are seen and portrayed as self-serving if they try to give themselves huge raises. A strong case should instead be made on their behalf by opinion leaders like Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman and respected media publications like the Wall Street Journal. Sadly, the WSJ just continues to take cheap shots as in its August 8 front page article and August 10 headlines about petty lawmaker expenses on Congressional trips.

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