10 of the Nuttiest Statements Elected Officials Have Made in the Health Care Battle
Even by the standards of our typically debased public discourse, one has to step back and marvel for a moment at the sheer, unmitigated craziness the debate over health care reform has elicited from the right wing.
It hasn't been the usual conservative boilerplate -- blather about "tort reform" or dubious "analyses" predicting the latest proposal would break the budget and blow up the national debt. We've been treated to some truly extreme, and sometimes bizarre, arguments about American health care and even lied to about what the proposed health reform bills contained.
We're accustomed to that kind of hyperbole from hate-radio and the conservative bloggers, but this summer it hasn't been limited to Rush Limbaugh fulminating about socialism or Glenn Beck weepily warning that the Dems' health care legislation are stealthy reparations for slavery.
What makes the ocean of crazy surrounding this debate truly remarkable is that the overheated, ill-informed spew is also coming from the mouths of actual public officials, people tasked with creating legislation. National office holders -- not loopy local GOP party chairs, but people who supposedly represent the interests of entire congressional districts and earn a public salary -- have offered up months of bizarre tales about our health care system and the effort to reform it that are every bit as outlandish as anything scribbled on an overheated right-wing blog.
The most charitable view is that some of the lawmakers who oppose reform most vehemently just have no clue what they're talking about. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., whom some have dubbed "the dumbest senator of them all," suggested as much when asked what he didn't like about the reform bill.
"I don't have to read it or know what's in it. I'm going to oppose it anyways," he told Grady County Express Star. According to the report, "information provided by news media have helped [Inhofe] become a staunch non-supporter of the bill." In other words, his opposition is firmly grounded in whatever he's picked up from the fair-and-balanced conservative media.
Whether examples of dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks ignorance or intentional obfuscation, here are some of the craziest things that have been said about health care this summer by real-live elected officials.
It's by no means comprehensive!
1. Policy Terminated!
The thing that makes the rhetoric against health care reform so outlandish is how divorced it is from reality.
The Democrats' health care proposals, as any critic on the left can tell you, are rather compromised, incremental reforms that won't directly impact the vast majority of Americans who have decent health care already. It has a public insurance option, but only 1 in 50 Americans would be covered by it in 2019. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it wouldn't add to the deficit. It's moderate.
Although the legislation is obviously significant, it's tough to portray as a radical and frightening shift in our health care system. So opponents in Congress have taken the novel approach of arguing against a bill that doesn't exist.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, warned that the House reform bill "cancels every [health insurance] policy" in America. "[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's agenda takes every [policy] away," King told MSNBC.
Not to be outdone, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann -- always a favorite of lazy left-wing bloggers on the hunt for a gem -- told Fox News the House bill would make private insurance illegal.
2. Health Care Crisis? What Health Care Crisis?
One often hears that virtually everyone agrees that the American health care system has deep, deep problems, even as they disagree on exactly where the problems lie and how they should be fixed.
But have you ever wondered who it is that is not counted among "virtually everyone"? Turns out they include some of Washington's most conservative lawmakers who insist that there is no problem and that the whole thing is just another liberal myth (like global warming, poverty or the war in Iraq).
Another member of Congress named King -- Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., -- told MSNBC that health care is "not a major issue among the American people." The Huffington Post points out that King based the claim on a poll that in fact found that Americans ranked the issue as the third most important, after jobs and the deficit.
But Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., one of the craziest members of the House (and that's saying something), took the prize when she held a press conference to proclaim, "there are no Americans who don't have health care." Which would come as a surprise for the 46 million or so who lack coverage today.
"We do have about 7.5 million Americans who want to purchase health insurance who can not afford it," she granted before urging people not to "give the government control of our lives."
3. There's No Problem, and Nobody Cares About Health Care, but … Oh My God!
If you're in the mood for consistency, the Republican caucus is probably not the place to look. Because while Reps. Foxx and Peter King were telling us everything's fine, and besides, nobody much cares about the issue, others were rending their hair over the profound injustice of it all.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., insisted that the Democrats' plans will inspire "a minor revolution" if lawmakers don't heed the confused outrage of the tea-partiers.
"The intensity on this issue across the country is like nothing I've seen in a long, long time," he told CNN, adding that if health reforms squeak through, it'll "wreck our health care system and wreck the Democratic Party."
Newt Gingrich (OK, he used to be an elected official) told Fox News that if the Dems used an obscure procedural maneuver to advance the legislation, "I think you'll have an extraordinary explosion both in the Senate and in the country." And Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., decided not to quibble and warned that the Dems' rather business-friendly incremental reforms would "destroy America as we know it today."
With so much at stake, you have to credit Bachmann for reacting in the calm, measured tones for which she's become so well-known: "What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass," she told an enthusiastic audience at a corporate think-tank.
4. ET Get Health Insurance?
Like some grotesque apparition from Orson Wells' War of the Worlds, aliens are descending upon us to defile our women and eat our health-insurance dollars!
Only these are illegal aliens, and according to Iowa Republican King, a repeat offender, the Congressional Budget Office says almost 6 million unauthorized immigrants would be covered, gratis of course, under the Dems' health reform bill.
Mind you he's not saying it -- he's just issuing press releases saying that the CBO is saying it!
But, as it turns out, not so much. The truth is not only are the undocumented barred from receiving benefits by the legislation itself, but also by a variety of other laws already on the books. So did the CBO get it wrong? According to Factcheck.org:
So, where does King get his 5.6 million figure? His press release says that the CBO projected that the uninsured would include 14.1 million illegal immigrants in 2019. The CBO's analysis of the House health care bill estimates that in 2019, 17 million would remain uninsured, "nearly half of whom would be unauthorized immigrants." This is where math comes in: Taking the 14.1 million illegal immigrants in 2019 and subtracting half of 17 million (8.5 million) gets you … 5.6 million illegal immigrants that have suddenly gained coverage, right? Actually, no. About half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have health care coverage now.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned that health care "rationing" is inevitable. Sue Myrick, a cancer survivor and GOP representative from North Carolina, said she wouldn't have gotten the treatment she needed to beat her disease "under the government-run health care system they have in Canada and the United Kingdom," and cautioned people to "make no mistake, [the proposals in Congress] are all gateways to government-run health care."
But the thing that makes this one so crazy is that rationing health care is the private insurance industry's entire business model. As Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post, "We Ration. We Ration. We Ration. We Ration."
This is not an arguable proposition. It is not a difference of opinion or a conversation about semantics. We ration. We ration without discussion, remorse or concern. We ration health care the way we ration other goods: We make it too expensive for everyone to afford.
The rationing meme did lead to hilarity when Investor's Business Daily ran an editorial arguing that physicist Stephen Hawking "wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless." Hawking, still a Brit last time he checked, responded: "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
Less amusing was Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, advancing the same nonsensical argument about the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Democrat from Massachusetts who fought hard for the Dems' plan before his death by cancer.
6. Health Care Reform Is Just Like Terrorism, but Far Worse!
North Carolina's Foxx is the gift that just never stops giving!
Just this week, after having sworn that the status quo was just peachy, Foxx said that reform, on the other hand, would be just like an ax-murderer crawling into the room of a small, defenseless child in the dark of night, only much scarier.
Creative Loafing, a Charlotte political blog, documented her exact phrasing:
Give Foxx credit … she always ups the ante in her nutcase sweepstakes. Now, she's gone onto the House floor to declare that she and everyone in her district are living in fear (which, along with anger, seem to be the only two emotions right-wing extremists like Foxx have left at their disposal) and that health care reform is a more terrible threat to America than "any terrorist right now in any country." Um, thanks for that valuable insight, Congresswoman; maybe next time remember to take your meds before giving a public speech.
In this week's crazy-off, Foxx has to compete with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., bravely challenging the swine flu virus to choose a side -- either with us or with the terrorists -- but Foxx may have the edge.
7. Health Care Reform Spawns Tenthers!
You heard of "birthers" and probably know the health care debate has completed the cycle of life by giving us "deathers" (discussed below).
But it's also spawned a generation of "tenthers" -- self-anointed right-wing constitutional scholars who insist that the Founding Fathers, no-doubt shilling for the insurance industry, enshrined ironclad prohibitions against the government helping Americans get halfway decent health care in the country's charter.
And they include elected officials!
The gist of their "argument" is that the 10th Amendment says that powers that aren't expressly given to the feds remain in the hands of the states. That's true, of course, but the Constitution doesn't grant the feds the power to build interstate highways, either. According to Think Progress:
Tenther claims are far from the mainstream. In their world, landmark federal programs such as Medicare, Social Security, the federal highway system and rules regulating airplane safety are unconstitutional. In fact, the South "justified both secession and the Civil War on the theory that the Constitution is nothing more than a pact between sovereigns that each state is free to leave at will."
Real constitutional scholars, of course, dismiss the claim as nonsense. But that hasn't kept a gaggle of Republican officials from jumping on the bandwagon, including Minnesota's Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- a potential candidate for the White House in 2012; Texas Gov. Rick "the Hair" Perry, who toyed with the idea of secession before a crowd of "tea-party" activists earlier in the year; Sens. Jim Demint, R-S.C. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; and a handful of GOP House members. (Pawlenty later backed away from his statement.)
How thoughtful are the tenthers? The Wall Street Journal offered a report about befuddled Georgia State Sen. Judson Hill proclaiming at a gathering of like-minded lawmakers, "The 10th Amendment protects us from such federal mandates." But when asked whether "the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants Congress the right to regulate and enforce matters related to interstate commerce, would interfere with their plan," the Journal informs us "Hill could not say."
When asked if "Medicare, which is government-run health care for seniors, would also then be unconstitutional," Hill was unsure.
"That's a good question," he replied, "I don't know yet. We'll fight that battle when it comes before us."
Medicare was established by an act of Congress in 1965.
8. Astroturf Groups Are Just Like Revolutionary War Heroes … or Something
The whole summer of outrage -- with its "tea parties," its loud displays of "patriotism" and dark whispers of revolution -- was nothing short of bizarre. Perhaps swept up in the fervor, Iowa's Steve King (who is now, I suppose, the champion), took to the floor of the House to warn of a "great diminishment of American freedom" if health care reform were to pass.
"If the Founding Fathers could stand in here tonight," he said, "the tears would be running down their cheeks."
He then compared busloads of protesters sent to Washington by deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists to Paul Revere.
If King were a fictional character rather than an actual voting member of our legislature, he would be endlessly entertaining.
9. When You Can't Oppose Something Rationally, Just Tell People It'll Kill 'Em!
And when telling people that socialism is creeping up just over the horizon fails to stir up their ire, up the ante and promise them that reformers are bent on nothing short of killing off American citizens in order to control health costs. These are the "deathers."
And in America, the media treat their outlandish charges as if they were a credible matter of debate.
Begun by veteran wack-a-loon Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, the infamous "death panels" were soon being touted by GOP hitters like Boehner and Grassley, who said, "We should not have a government program that determines if you‘re going to pull the plug on Grandma."
If you're reading this, you probably know the whole thing is nonsense, but some may not realize how benign the provision that started the death-panels nonsense really is. It just directs Medicare to pay doctors to consult with patients who want help drawing up a living will -- a way to control their own health care if they become incapacitated. That's it -- the deaths panels. That's the government taking decisions out of the hands of doctors and patients.
Although it's been widely debunked, some prominent Republicans were still trying to push the "deather" story as recently as last week. And, as is so often the case, it turns out that many were for death panels before they were against them.
10. Health Care Reform Will Kill the Republican Party … No, the Entire Two-Party System!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that the GOP fears the political ramifications of a decent reform bill being passed by the Dems. Saying that around 100,000 people in each congressional district would directly benefit from the House bill, Pelosi said, "Republicans know that passing real health care reform, meaningful health care reform for the American people, which is relevant to their lives [and] solves their problems, is politically powerful, and they must stop it."
It's probably overstating the case, but it's a fairly straightforward analysis. In the hands of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, however, it became darker, as he warned that passing a bill people actually liked would spell doom for our entire two-party system -- government as we know it. Describing the proposals in Congress as a "step-by-step approach to socialized medicine," Hatch told a conservative Web site:
If they get there, then of course you're going to have a rough time, you're going to have a very rough time, having a two-party system in this country. Because almost everybody's going to say all we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party.
So, Looking Forward to the Climate Change Debate Heating Up?
Blather about a government takeover of health care with ashen-faced bureaucrats rationing out treatments has been ubiquitous among conservative elected officials, so much so that it almost seems a natural part of the discussion.
But given the degree to which Democrats have been forced to water down their legislation to appease conservatives within their party, these memes really represent a mass psychosis in the literal sense, as in "a distorted or nonexistent sense of objective reality."
Which might explain why 1 in 3 Americans trust congressional Republicans to deal with our health care mess and 4 percent of the electorate has a "great deal" of confidence in them on the issue.
But the crazy charges flying around also help explain some of the oddly divided public opinion on health care reform. According to the latest polling, while 55 percent favor a public insurance option, 45 percent favor what they understand to be "Obama's" health care reforms.
Given that the public option is the most controversial and hotly debated aspect of the health care bills in Congress, that would appear to confirm earlier polling, which basically found that most Americans just didn't have a firm handle on the proposals.
We can laugh at the anti-reformers' hyperbole, but it does muddy the waters to at least a degree.
Yet despite it all -- all the talk of death panels and losing our of liberty -- support for the public insurance plan has remained pretty steady over the past months, which has to make you wonder what the political landscape would look like if we were ever to have a serious, fact-grounded debate about health care reform in this country.