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David Sirota

David Sirota

Posted: May 18, 2009 07:56 PM

Why Is Washington, D.C. So Afraid to Even Talk About Single Payer?


After high-profile arrests on Capitol Hill, there's a very simple question on health care that hasn't been answered: Why are top Democrats afraid to even discuss the concept of a single-payer health care system? This is the question I explore in my latest newspaper column.

President Obama's refusal to kick off a national debate about single payer is particularly perplexing when you watch this statement from 2003:

As you can see, Obama not only declares himself a "proponent of single-payer health care" but says the only reason proponents like him should tolerate delay is because -- at the time -- Democrats still had to take back the House, Senate and White House. And yet now that precisely that has happened, the White House has done its level best to exclude single-payer advocates from a national health care debate. Why?

Thanks to this new Great Falls Tribune article, we get at least one potential attempt at an answer to that question from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the single most powerful opposition to single payer in the American government:

"We've got to reform our system fairly quickly, and to be candid with you, very few members of the House and Senate advocate single-pay. The vast, vast majority do not," Baucus said in an interview Friday. "It tells me that if I go down that road, it's not going to be successful -- it's not going to pass the Congress."

So Baucus is giving us the "politically impossible" canard - ie. the canard insisting that even though polls show a majority of Americans support the concept of single-payer, it's "not going to pass the Congress." Of course, the "evidence" for his assertion is the claim that "very, very few members" of Congress support single payer, and that "evidence" is refuted by the Great Falls Tribune's note that Rep. John Conyers' (D-MI) single-payer bill "has 75 sponsors in the House and is endorsed by more than 500 unions in 49 states." That doesn't sound like "very, very few" - and certainly not so few that single payer should be barred from the debate entirely.

As I wrote last week, I support single payer, and we clearly need single payer to be in the health care debate right now. The fact that the Washington Establishment is doing everything not only to stop single payer, but to keep it out of the debate entirely, suggests that Establishment is genuinely frightened of any proposal that takes on the health insurance industry. And that's not a good reason to refuse to even discuss a system that, on the merits, is probably the best solution to the health care crisis.

Read the whole newspaper column here.

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