A Litmus Test for Government
Matt Taibbi on health-care reform:
It won’t get done, because that’s not the way our government works. Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I think they’re doing a lousy job even of that.[...]
This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency.
Something might get done. And if that something that gets done extends health-care coverage to 40 million people who don't now have it, that will be a big deal, and a big improvement in the lives of many, many Americans. It's important for people who get good health care and have the luxury of seeing this as an intellectual and political project to keep that in mind.
But whatever gets done will be much too expensive because the political system is very afraid of harming any of the relevant industries. Taibbi is right that this, like climate change, is a litmus test for our government. Both are serious, foreseeable and solvable threats to our society. One threatens to bankrupt the country. The other threatens irreversible damage to the planet we live on. Responding to such threats is the test of a political system. And our system will fail it. We will not avert catastrophic climate change. We will not protect ourselves from health-care inflation.
You can argue over why that is. Taibbi implies that Americans stand foursquare behind action on health-care reform, and there's no evidence that that's true for any particular health-care reform you might attempt. But nor is it true that even a relatively united populace -- as we had on the stimulus -- could guarantee a decent outcome. And so the end result remains the same: The country, and the system, will continue to whistle while our wages get eaten up and our government tumbles further into debt and our interest rates rise and other priorities get squeezed out and a serious and painful fiscal reckoning inches ever closer.
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