health care reform


As I noted in a post yesterday, today is the 5th anniversary of when then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts. But that’s not the only — or even the most important — anniversary of significance to be marked today.

Of course, the most significant is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I began to commemorate the day this morning by dusting off my Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II CD and playing it, beginning with the first track, “Civil War.” Then my wife and I hiked at Starved Rock State Park, where there weren’t many people today, giving us the opportunity to truly appreciate the solitude of nature and, at one point, reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the Civil War — and even since the 100th anniversary 50 years ago.

You don’t need me to explain all that, but I do wish to take this time to mention a few Civil War-related books I’ve read or that are on my to-read list: Jay Winik’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” (about the final days of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath); James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse”; David O. Stewart’s “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”; and George B. Kirsch’s “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.”

If anyone has suggestions to add to my reading list, I’d love to hear them. Also, if you have any Civil War sites you recommend I visit between northern Illinois and Atlanta, Ga., during a road trip planned for later this year, I’d love to hear those, too.

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Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight (by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the 30th anniversary of the American space shuttle program’s first flight. NASA celebrated by not giving one of the retiring space shuttles to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but at least the planetarium will get the flight simulator used by astronauts during their space training.

The four space shuttles were assigned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C.; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Fla.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

I’ll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center during my aforementioned road trip planned for later this year. Suggested stops in the TOM (Tampa-Orlando-Miami) triangle are welcome, too. (Baseball games and Everglades National Park are already on the agenda.)

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Finally, today is the 1-year anniversary of when the Chicago Cubs front office started its official Twitter feed, @CubsInsider. This isn’t very notable, except to illustrate a point.

Lately I’ve noticed a few people in my Twitter timeline mention that they’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I’m glad they’ve been on Twitter that long, but I’m not sure why they think the anniversary is a big deal. I’ve used Twitter since early 2009 — proudly ahead of the curve with this form of social media — but I don’t know what day I tweeted for the first time. Nevertheless, if you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow me, I hope you will change that! I’m @thebreadline.

Tuesday is the fifth anniversary of then-Gov. Mitt Romney signing a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts — a law that Romney used to be proud of, but now is a mark of shame for him (derided as “RomneyCare”) among the Republican base he needs to win over to get the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

President Obama and other Democrats have said that Romney’s 2006 universal healthcare law helped set the stage for the national healthcare reform law passed last year. That has led to some significant Republican backlash against Romney, because the former Massachusetts governor is now seen as basically having enacted the same law that is one of the GOP’s biggest criticisms of Obama.

While Romney likely will ignore the anniversary as best he can, Massachusetts Democrats will shine a spotlight on it by throwing a party to mark the occasion. The politically-motivated celebration will include a “Thank You Mitt Romney” cake made specially for the photo opportunity moment.

That’s the sort of political theater that makes me love politics.

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With the fifth anniversary of RomneyCare tomorrow, it is puzzling why Romney chose today to announce the formation of his presidential exploratory committee. The fact that he will run for president again is no surprise, but the timing of his announcement is.

Romney is not the first Republican to announce his 2012 presidential aspirations with such peculiar timing this year. Remember Newt Gingrich made a similar announcement with a potential government shutdown looming, and it didn’t make sense why he would risk reminding people that he helped shut down the federal government in 1995.

At this rate, I expect Sarah Palin to announce she is running for president on the anniversary of her interview with Katie Couric.

After President Obama finished his State of the Union address last night, a conservative friend of mine sent me this text message: “They always talk about Clinton moving to the center. Obama is moving far right!”

I don’t agree that Obama is moving far right, but as I responded to my friend, “I always thought Obama was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi allowed him to appear.”

“True, but this was stunning,” my friend wrote back. “American Exceptionalism? Reducing corporate taxes? Maybe this Reagan stuff is affecting him. Liberals must be pissed.”

He was right. Judging by the post-address commentary on MSNBC, some far-left liberals definitely were pissed. As a matter of fact, I had to change the channel to CNN after some of the MSNBC commentary started bordering on whining. (As usual, CNN had the best middle-ground coverage of a presidential speech.)

Here’s what I don’t understand: Obama obviously leans more to the left than the right, so why does he continue to get so much criticism from fellow Democrats? Why don’t the Democrats act like the Republicans and support their president?

I’m not saying that Obama — or any politician, for that matter — is above criticism, but the president has delivered on some significant liberal agenda items, including comprehensive healthcare reform and abolishment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. How far left do the president’s critics really expect him to go?

It long has been apparent to me that Obama is a pragmatist. He understands the political reality of his situation. He knows he must compromise with Republicans in order to get more done — but his left-leaning critics don’t seem willing to accept this. If they don’t wise up, they won’t appreciate Obama’s presidency until he leaves the White House — and by then, they may not have anyone left in the Oval Office willing to listen to anything they want.

I like to think the heated arguments over health-care reform that we see on television aren’t the norm.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a spirited debate about issues – I’m all for such conversations as long as they don’t get out of hand. People should feel free to disagree with each other in a point/counterpoint way, not a loudmouthed, name-calling way. A debate without civility is an argument that never wins over the other side. (It’s true you might not win the other side over anyway, but at least your decorum should be respected by your opponent.)

Last week when I wrote my column for Ottawa Delivered about the new health-care reform law, I knew there would be plenty of people who disagreed with me. As always, my charge was to state my opinion and back it up – and to do so in a respectful way that made my points without resorting to cheap shots at those who would disagree with my stance.

I believe I succeeded in that task, and I’m proud to say that those who commented on my column and the health-care issue in general on Ottawa Delivered’s Facebook page kept the conversation civil and respectful of each other, even though there were definite differences in opinion being expressed.

Some people agreed with what I wrote. Others disagreed with me, but weren’t rude about it. I like to think this is the norm among those who engage in the health-care debate in “real America” (in other words, not on TV or otherwise in a glaring spotlight of mainstream media attention).

With that said, I want to compliment Adam Kinzinger for taking the simple step of saying a few words to defuse any potential ugliness that might have been waiting in the wings at his health-care forum in Ottawa last week.

When it comes to the health-care reform issue, I don’t agree with Kinzinger, the Republican nominee in Illinois’ 11th Congressional District race. I think the new health-care reform law isn’t perfect but is a move in the right direction; he agrees with the Republican party line of “repeal and replace” (which really isn’t a feasible plan, in my opinion). But as someone who values civil discourse, I appreciated Kinzinger’s appeal to his town-hall attendees not to jeer those who disagreed with them.

Guess what? It worked. Sure, most of the crowd probably agreed with Kinzinger’s point of view, but there were at least a few in the audience who didn’t – and they made it known through polite exchanges with the candidate.

I also liked that Kinzinger acknowledged there are some parts of the new health-care law he agrees with – specifically, not letting insurance companies deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to be insured under their parents’ plan until age 26.

Noting there are some good things to be found in an opponent’s plan can go a long way in fostering civil discourse. Unfortunately, politicians and mainstream political pundits willing to admit somebody with an opposing viewpoint has a decent idea might as well be placed on the endangered species list. That’s part of the reason why a relatively unknown politician like Barack Obama could ride a promise of bipartisanship all the way to the White House – because, in my opinion, most people want civil discourse rather than continual partisan bickering that accomplishes little.

We should expect no less from our elected officials. But remember, they ultimately take their cues from us. We must set the example for them – not the other way around.

A version of this column will appear in this week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered.

As I write this column Tuesday morning, most Democrats are celebrating and seemingly all Republicans are complaining about the health-care reform bill President Obama signed into law today.

The scope of health-care reform is not as sweeping as many hoped it would be, but considering how difficult it has been for previous presidents to get such legislation passed, the new law is a good start.Yes, the cost of overhauling health care is high. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will cost an estimated $940 billion over 10 years. It also is expected to take a political toll on at least some members of Congress who voted in favor of the measure.

Even so, I think those who voted in favor of health-care reform ultimately will be vindicated by history. I don’t think there is a politician today who would vote to get rid of Medicare or Social Security, and those programs are equally expensive and were equally attacked when they were proposed (and ultimately enacted) years ago.

There always is aversion to change. The level of aversion increases accordingly with the amount of change being proposed – or the amount of change it costs to implement it.

But set aside the money issue for a moment. Don’t you think it is better for America as a whole when 95 percent of its citizens have health-care coverage in 2014, as opposed to the 83 percent who do today? Isn’t it better that insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions? Isn’t it better to have more insurance plan choices?

If you agree these things are improvements to our health-care system, you must accept that such changes come with a price tag. And if you don’t think the government needs to be spending so much money, perhaps it is time to look elsewhere to cut spending instead of continuing to look the other way when our fellow citizens can’t get health-care coverage – something that all hard-working, decent Americans deserve to have.

The health-care reform bill is not perfect, and I never expected it would be. But Medicare and Social Security aren’t perfect either, and there is always talk about fixing those programs, not doing away with them completely. Decades from now, that probably will be the case with health care, too.

That doesn’t mean the bill shouldn’t be tweaked and made better. I won’t pretend to have all the answers to what ails the new health-care law, but I know it can be improved. People should contact their legislators and let them know what changes they think should be made.

For those who think the new health-care law will be overturned simply by loudly complaining about it, I suggest turning that anger/frustration into a positive force by suggesting changes that actually might be made – say, removing a particular provision (or adding one) rather than expecting the government to suddenly flip a switch and decide not to implement any of the health-care changes after all.

Many Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, apparently think the flip-a-switch approach is feasible, calling on constituents to vote out Democrats so the bill can be repealed. But trust me, this strategy won’t work. The Republicans would need a 60-vote majority in the Senate before they could even attempt to repeal the law, and that isn’t likely to happen before the law fully takes effect in 2014.

And once people are given something they really want – 32 million Americans who are currently uninsured will get health-care coverage – it is difficult to take it away from them without consequences. I can’t imagine the GOP taking that political risk.

Instead, everyone – Democrats and Republicans – should focus on getting health-care reform right the first time, because like Medicaid and Social Security, nobody is going to want their health-care program taken away years from now when the political warfare over it dies down.

The key, however, is getting it right.

The bill signed into law Tuesday seems to be a move in the right direction.

This column was originally published in the March 25 edition of Ottawa Delivered.

In case you missed President Obama’s health-care speech Wednesday evening, here it is in 140 characters or less, times 14, as I live-tweeted it:

Obama: “I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.”

Obama on health care reform: “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

Obama: “Insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages.”

Obama: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.”

Obama: “The time for bickering is over. … Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together.”

Obama: “Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.”

O: “Under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance, just like most states require you to carry auto insurance.”

Obama says health care reform will not create so-called “death panels,” give insurance to illegal immigrants or fund abortions.

Obama: “I’ve insisted … the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.”

Obama: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future.”

Obama: “To prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts …

… if the savings we promised don’t materialize.”

Obama: “If we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just 1/10th of 1% each year …

… it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.”

As I listened today to the latest news about President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team vetting Hillary and Bill Clinton to determine whether Hillary should become secretary of state, an interesting theory popped into my head. What if Obama is just vetting the Clintons so he knows as much as possible about them without a true intention of offering the job to Hillary? The Clintons aren’t fond of Obama after he defeated Hillary in the Democratic primary, so perhaps Obama is gathering as much information about them as possible (including what controversial donors gave money to Bill Clinton’s foundation) to keep in his back pocket in case they try to backstab him in some way. Perhaps Obama really intends to offer the secretary of state post to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has more foreign policy experience than Hillary and likely has a favor coming his way after endorsing Obama during the primary race.

If my theory proves true, wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants to the Clintons? After all the negative things she said about Obama during the primary race, Hillary probably doesn’t deserve a position in his administration anyway. It isn’t as if she won’t continue to rack up seniority in the Senate if she stays there, where she can work with Sen. Ted Kennedy on implementing universal health care, which has long been one of Hillary’s pet projects.