THE BLOG
04/22/2008 05:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How About If Members Of Congress Forgo Free Health Care Until The Rest of Us Get it Too?

Saturday the Blue America PAC endorsed Larry Joe Doherty, a populist Democrat running for Congress in one of the gerrymandered districts Tom DeLay created to thwart the will of Austin residents by cutting the city up into three pieces and giving each piece to a bizarre entity designed solely to elect Republicans. But even among Republicans, even among Texas Republicans, the misdeeds and incompetence of the Bush Regime -- and of the rubber stamp enablers like incumbent Michael McCaul -- have so turned off voters that Democrats are finding opportunities where none "should" exist. By all means go back and read over the archive of the chat session we had with Larry at Firedoglake.

Larry covered a whole range of positions with us but there is something he said that has stuck with me.

When I sued lawyers, I sued them for breaching their fiduciary duty, failing to put the interest of their clients above their own. I've known how to do that for more than 37 years in my law practice and I intend to see to it that Congress gets an explanation of how to put their constituents' interests above their own. We don't have a national health care plan for the public but Congress has one for itself. I've called on Michael McCaul to give up his national health care plan until he can legislate one that's at least as good for the public as he gets for himself. He hasn't responded to that.

I've already pledged that I'm not taking the national health care plan afforded congressmen until we pass a plan that's available for the public. It'll be the same for me as it'll be for them or I'm not going to have it... If you don't appreciate how suffering takes place until you've suffered a little then Congress needs to go without its medical plan until they can give one as good to the public.

Yesterday I ran this by a dozen or so other candidates looking for their perspectives. Some of the responses were encouraging and some were disappointing -- like one from a campaign manager who told me that he thought his candidate would like it but that if he told him about it, the candidate's wife would be angry. Along similar lines, although put in a way that was a lot easier to digest, another candidate said he loves the idea and it's "certainly consistent with my politics and my ethics. But I have to talk to my wife about this pledge before I can make it public." He promised to get back to me and I know he will. Russ Warner, who is running against a rubber stamp Republican who violently opposes universal health care (Republican closet queen David Dreier), told me he and his wife and decided that they will forego the congressional health care package if he ousts Dreier -- forego it until every American is covered. "I'm fortunate that I can afford to pay for my family's health insurance," he said. "Hard working American families are struggling every day just to get by. With $4 a gallon gas and food cost rising, the average family has a decision to make. To fill their tanks to get to work or to cut back on needed food for their families. President Bush and David Dreier keep telling us that things are just fine. Tell that to America's hard working families."

Even before Russ got back with me, the very first response was from one of the most impressive of the Blue America candidates, Alan Grayson in Orlando, who gave me permission to re-print his note:

It's a very interesting question. I think that the problem goes a lot deeper than that. The problem is not only that Congressmen have a good health care plan, but that they are paid over $170,000 a year, with plenty of other perks beyond that. And the problem is not only that Congressmen are treated that way, but also TV news anchors, newspaper editors, judges, generals, and bosses of all kinds. All of these people act in concert to protect their privileges.

In my experience, no group of people ever acts to reduce their own privileges. It's far more likely that you will see corporations adopt "green" environmental policies than you will see corporate executives give up their private jets. It's far more likely that you'll see baseball players submit to weekly drug testing than a salary cap. And it's far more likely that you'll see national health care than you'll see any cut back in health care for members of Congress.

Congressmen also get free haircuts. If we all take a pledge against that, you'll still see plenty of mullets in Tennessee.

Here's an analogy. Jeff Flake of Arizona constantly attacks "earmarks." The result is that his district never gets any earmarks, he never passes any bills of any kind, and his committee assignments are lousy. He gets some good media out of it, but he never accomplishes anything. People think he's a flake. Not just a Flake, but a flake.

I'm not saying that cutting health care for members of Congress is a bad idea. Actually, as you can see, I'd not only be in favor of that, but a lot beyond that.

Vic Wulsin, the courageous physician and public health expert who's taking on Mean Jean Schmidt in southern Ohio, reminded me that she already made this pledge to the residents of OH-02. "I pledged to not take Congressional health insurance during my '06 race. During my '08 primary, I repeated the pledge even in my first TV commercial. I will proudly stand with every candidate who does the same." That's why we love her so much; and why we need her and others like her in Congress.

And, in fact, another Blue America-endorsed candidate has also already made a similar pledge. Lehigh Valley's Sam Bennett, who is running a strong campaign to oust Bush rubber stamp Charlie Dent, sent me this note yesterday: "I've already committed in my announcement speech that I will not accept any governmental health care plan until all Americans can have a comparable one." If anyone can think of a better answer, please let me know.

I guarantee you without a doubt that when the DCCC talks to candidates they don't ask them a question like this. And they're not looking for the kinds of attitudes we are. Yesterday Phil Munger, at Alaska's most respected blog, Progressive Alaska, did an astute analysis of who donates to Rahm Emanuel's notorious leadership PAC, Our Common Values. The common values are those shared with Emanuel by "supporters of war with Iran, defenders of the worst aspects of our health care industry, opponents of net neutrality, and enablers of the financial deregulation that allows hedge fund managers to be taxed very little, and who helped engineer the sub-prime mortgage industry meltdown. The list includes the producer of Bill O'Reilly's radio show, several Fox executives, war criminal Henry Kissinger's main business partner, and a whole host of other people who make Alaska's Corrupt Bastard Club look like a kindergarten roster."

Taking a pledge to eschew government paid health care until all Americans get the same package, is as likely to be endorsed by Rahm Emanuel and his supporters as it is to be endorsed by Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. But what about you? Would you take that pledge? Larry Joe Doherty, Sam Bennett, Russ Warner, Alan Grayson and Vic Wulsin already have. If you're not running for Congress, how about giving each of these candidates $5.01-- or whatever you can afford-- today to tell them that you approve?