Friday, March 19, 2010

A Look to the North: US Health Care Reform and Seven Years of War in Iraq

There is much excitement back in the United States as the Democrats make the final push towards passing health care reform legislation in the House of Representatives. In just the past few days, several Democrats who previously voted against the original House bill have been persuaded to change their upcoming vote, solidifying the odds of a successful passage expected in the next few days. Included in this bloc of Democrats who will be voting for the bill are Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, a progressive champion and staunch proponent of universal care, and Indiana representative Brad Ellsworth, a conservative Democrat who will be running for Evan Bayh's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

This is certainly a remarkable milestone in a legislative battle that has been waged for months for what has been the centerpiece of Obama's political agenda for the first half of his term. President Obama has expended significant political capital on this piece of legislation, and indeed it seems that he has staked his political fortune on its passage. Republicans, who ironically often represent lower-income districts (especially in the South) that will benefit most from the legislation, have been in lockstep in their voracious opposition to the bill, with the knowledge that its defeat would deal a massive blow not only to the Obama administration, but to possibility of further progressive reform in the United States. Their greatest contentions with the bill regard its cost, an estimated $940 billion over 10 years, and the fact that it runs contrary to their ideology of "free markets" and a minimal Federal government.

Amidst this context however, it's essential to note that today, March 19, marks the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, a conflict that we are still deeply engaged in today. This war of aggression by the United States, predicated on lies and whose legality is questionable at best, has so far claimed the lives of more than 4300 American soldiers, hundreds of coalition fighters, an unknown number of private mercenaries, and, perhaps most appallingly, affected the entire population of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civillians killed, injured, traumatized, and displaced.

As Representative Kucinich said in yesterday's interview on Democracy Now! on the health care legislation and its relationship to the Iraq War,

War has become ordinary. War has become like part of our daily lives. That’s a serious problem, because it means that we’ve accepted war. And we have to reject it. We have to reject it in all of its manifestations, which includes, you know, the spending to keep the war going, the support for the military contractors, the assassination policies that are involved, the unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to strike at people without anyone taking any real responsibility for the results of dead civilians.

Thus as the health care reform bill moves into its final stages, and especially as conservatives balk at the size of the bill, remember this key point: the United States, whose military budget accounts for more than 40% of the world total and is greater than the next 46 countries combined, will spend nearly the same amount in only one year of defense expenditures as the cost of this health care reform bill over 10 years.

Accordingly, the objections that this health care bill will worsen the deficit (even in the face of all evidence to the contrary), voiced by the same by the same people who have consistently supported the unabashed bloating of military expenditures abroad and opposed deficit-reducing tax increases on the wealthiest 0.28% of Americans, are nothing more than a red herring.

The health care reform bill currently on the table is, of course, not without fault. But contrary to the claims of conservatives and right-wing interests, the problem with the health care reform bill is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. Instead, the bill is in fact largely a capitulation to the corporate interests that back both the Republicans and Democrats. It doesn't even ensure health insurance for all of the roughly 45 million of Americans who lack it, let alone universal health care, threatens women's access to reproductive care, and doesn't provide a real alternative to a health care system dominated by corporate interests. Accordingly, there is a great amount of concern that this reform bill will merely perpetuate the status quo of a failed free market system, creating blowback in the form of outrage stemming from the bill's shortcomings and a strengthening the hand of the health care corporations that stymie real reform in the interest of the American people.

With that being said, this health care reform bill does mark the most significant domestic policy reform in the United States in a generation (which unfortunately speaks more about the failure of our political institutions than the strength of this bill...). It's strengths are significant, including legal protections against the worst exploitation by the health insurance industry, the expansion of community health clinics, and most importantly, health insurance for millions of Americans who currently lack it. As such, I stand with many of the most important advocacy organizations in the United States, including the American Medical Association and the AARP, the majority of the progressive community, and the millions of Americans who support this legislation.

But I also agree with The Nation magazine that "genuine reform begins, not ends, with passage of the current legislation." We cannot allow our political leaders to rest on the passage of this bill alone, which the majority will undoubtedly seek to do. Instead, the legislation must be seen as a step towards making this country work for all Americans, not just those of a certain socio-economic status. This includes not only reforming our health care system, but radically changing the values and actions of our political institutions from callously investing trillions of dollars to our military-industrial complex to satisfy imperial ambitions to investing in social and economic justice at home and abroad.

So, when you contact your representative to support the health care reform proposal, be sure to also tell them to put an end to our bloated defense spending, stop our military occupations abroad, and invest the money saved here at home.

1 comment:

  1. Your best entry yet, REED. Awesome depth, great links...sure, it helps I agree with you on all your points, especially the fact that defense spending needs to be extinguished all together...but really, this was outstanding.