Ben Buchwalter


Pro-Lifers Hijack Health Care Reform
November 22, 2009, 6:27 pm
Filed under: Health Care, Mother Jones | Tags: , ,

July 28, 2009

This post grew increasingly relevant in light of recent developments with health care reform, which brought on the anti-choice Stupak amendment. I wrote in late July about a smear campaign supported by FOX News claiming that the Democrats’ plan amounted to government-subsidized abortion. Responding to this hysteria, a group of 19 Democrats wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that they would not “support any healthcare proposal unless it excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan.” The post received an incredible response from MoJo readers. Read it here.

President Obama is staying out of it. Louisiana Republican John Fleming claimed recently that “by being silent on this issue [Obama is] actually making an affirmative statement in favor of taxpayer abortions.” That wouldn’t be so bad, but instead it’s something much worse. As Ezra Klein points out today, the health care discussion is being run by centrist Democrats and conservative Republicans. So by staying silent on the issue, Obama is not effectively condoning government subsidized abortion; he’s letting it die on the table.



Dean Should Replace Daschle
February 3, 2009, 4:23 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Health Care | Tags: ,

As you have undoubtedly seen today (because its everywhere) Tom Daschle has withdrawn his name from consideration to lead the Health and Human Services Department admidst tax controversy. This is an incredibly important position in the Obama administration because the HHS leader will have a large stake in guiding the forthcoming changes in healthcare policy. 

Daschle was a great choice because he is generally considered a legislative wizard. He would have worked with the House and Senate to get a reasonable bill passed without much fanfare. Also, Obama has a history with Daschle. So Obama’s pick to fill the spot is incredibly important. Ezra Klein presents some ideas. So does Matt Cooper.

Though he’s not on the lists, I like the Howard Dean suggestion

The argument for Howard Dean as Secretary of Health and Human Services is quite straightforward. He’s a medical doctor, and has more executive experience than anyone else in Congress or the White House. In his six terms as Governor of Vermont he paid off the state’s public debt, expanded health insurance for children, lowered taxes, signed civil unions into law, and delivered a balanced budget every year. And of course as Chairman of the DNC he implemented the 50-state strategy that gave Obama the foundation for victory. 

Also, he’s a liberal Democrat. And Obama’s Cabinet isn’t exactly overflowing with those. This is a very unlikely choice, but not a bad one.



Governing the Difficult Choices
January 21, 2009, 1:04 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, General Politics, Health Care | Tags: , ,

I guess its time to get things started. Unfortunately, though, that does not mean the anticipation period is complete. It just means that the anticipation is more pressing. At any moment, President Obama could do something huge!

He has already issued the order to stop all trials at Guantanamo Bay. And in his first foreign call as President, Obama reached out to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, the leader of the moderate Fatah party. And it looks like Obama is going to ask for even more money for the economic stimulus package, now nearing $900 Billion.

And that’s in 24 hours, many of which were filled with dancing and (I’d imagine) sleep. That makes you wonder what will happen in the remaining 1,460 days of Obama’s first term.

Politico says be afraid, be cautiously afraid. Though I don’t agree with many of their reasons to be skeptical, this one stood out: beware “the herd instinct.”

But the instinct for bipartisanship overlooks an inconvenient fact: Some of Washington’s biggest blunders occur when the government moves to do big things with big support. Bush won the much-regretted Iraq war resolution of October 2002 with strong Democratic backing.

The current economic crisis produces similar pressure to get on board the train — never mind for sure where it’s going.

While I think that a large, wide-reaching stimulus plan must pass for us to have any chance of surviving this economic downturn, I hope that our leaders will strive for the best plan, even if its not the quickest or the most politically safe.

I was expecting the inaugural address to ask Americans to sacrifice in order to help weather this storm. After 9/11, former President Bush wasted enormous political capital to unite Americans behind a common purpose. Instead of asking us to sacrifice for our country, he told us to shop. And he has been widely criticized for it. I think Obama is faced with a similar opportunity to unite Americans through simple sacrifices for their country.

But will a request for sacrifice, when actually made, be lauded or rebuked?

Ultimately, it depends on what kinds of sacrifices are requested. In Politico’s The Arena today, policy wonks and writers guess what kinds of sacrifices President Obama might ask for. This entry, by a contributing editor for the Daily Kos, stood out to me:

The main thing to understand is that fixes will not be quick. That means unemployment isn’t instantly reversed. Race relations aren’t instantly made whole. Iraq isn’t instantly evacuated. Gitmo is not instantly closed. These things will be addressed. They will not be completed today or in the next 100 days. And since things aren’t so great as they are right this second, it will rightly feel like sacrifice to be patient and build for the long term.

Other sacrifices mentioned were doing away with 8-figure salaries on wall street and throughout the corporate world and enduring some uncomfortable changes to health care policy.

But a lot needs to get done. And even if the Obama administration hits the ground running, some important promises are going to have to take a back seat to the pressing concerns of today, including the economic stimulus plan and the turmoil in the Middle East.

But I’m ready to give more than patience; and I think lots of others are too.



Friday Brain Dump

I don’t have much to say about much, so I’ll say a little about much. General thought for this week: hearing Obama’s cabinet choices calling torture torture and confirming that science is real highlights the perverse deviance of the opposite opinions.

  • Obama Attorney General choice Eric Holder unequivocally declares that “waterboarding is torture.” Also that “no one is above the law,” even the President and DOJ officials apparently. That’s change we can… you know. BarbinMD of Daily Kos and Todd Beeton of MyDD for more. CIA, on the other hand, still likes torture. 
  • In an interview with the Washington Post, Obama says that he will work to reform Social Security and Medicaid, the long-lasting but endangered loves of the Democratic Party. 
  • I really think that Obama is going to engage in talks with Hamas. He says he will form a team to deal with the Gaza situation on day one and that discussions can’t “be solved in isolation. And we’ve got to be active in all these areas in order for us to be successful in any of these areas.”
  • It looks like the GOP is going to challenge some of Obama’s cabinet picks. Really? At the end of the day, these picks are going to pass. It turns out that no one cares that Geithner screwed up his taxes, the benefits of Holder outweigh his lack of judgment in pardons a decade ago, and Daschle is, well, I don’t really understand what their problem is with him. I’m not saying I’m against solid debate, but hullabaloo for the sake of hullabaloo is tiresome. And we’ve got other things to focus on.
  • I’m getting excited for the innagural address. Did you know it’s during the day? Lamesauce. Hello Obama! Peeps gots to work!
  • Stimulus plan bigger than many expected. Way to go Obams. Rep Bohner (lol) says OMG


Obama: Be Bold with Health Care
December 12, 2008, 2:33 am
Filed under: General Politics, Health Care

Barack Obama ran his campaign promising to implement progressive programs and govern with progressive values. One of these programs is an ambitious health care reform package which promises to expand insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of families and individuals. This admirable goal will be very difficult to achieve. But it is worth the fight.

Bill Clinton made health care reform one of the priorities of his first term. This plan was largely overshadowed by a number of scandals including sexual digressions and strategic mistakes in the President’s first two years. The reforms were also spearheaded by Ira Magaziner, who was largely responsible for their failure. Grasping the political opportunity, Republicans were determined to kill the health care proposal, claiming that it was an overly bureaucratic and inefficient government-run solution to a problem that concerned a small minority of the population. Clinton spent much of his political capital on a health care plan and lived with the consequences when the Republicans took control of the House and Senate in 1994. Timeline

Obama will face similar hurdles when it comes to passing his ambitious health care plan. On Thursday, Robert Dallek argued that President-elect Obama should follow President Lyndon Johnson’s example passing the Voting Rights Act in 1965: “Johnson in a sense sold civil rights to the country as a program of national well being. And that’s what I think needs to be done now with national health care.”

See the video, courtesy of Think Progress:

This is the kind of leadership we need right now on many issues, the most important being health care. The fact is that the majority of the country already has health care insurance. So that population could abandon this priority in favor of other (also necessary) economic recovery programs. In that case, the President needs to step in and fight for universal health care, even if it is not the most popular option. Lyndon Johnson lost the South for the Democrats because of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. But there is no doubt that he took the right stances on important issues. And our country is better off for it. President-elect Obama has the chance to provide similarly effective leadership on health care.

This reminds me of a 2006 Malcolm Gladwell article published in the New Yorker. It discusses an experimental program in Denver, CO dealing with the city’s homelessness problem. The article points out that Denver spends an alarming portion of the budget on health care and shelter services for its homeless and mentally ill population. Since hospitals are required to help all patients, regardless of their insurance status, “the kind of money it would take to solve the homeless problem could well be less than the kind of money it took to ignore it.”

The experimental program targeted the chronically homeless who had a history of injury and costly medical bills picked up by the state. The study found that

“you can house and care for a chronically homeless person for at most fifteen thousand dollars, or about a third of what he or she would cost on the street. The idea is that once the people in the program get stabilized they will find jobs, and start to pick up more and more of their own rent, which would bring someone’s annual cost to the program closer to six thousand dollars.” 

Clearly there are problems with this model. It favors only a small portion of the city’s homeless and mentally ill population when everyone needs help. And where do you draw the line? Why do some homeless people deserve help and not others?

But the program best serves as a symbol for the benefits of creative governance. In general terms, liberals can support the program because it provides services to an at-risk population, and conservatives can support it because it saved the city a fortune in medical and shelter funds.
So when Obama begins crafting a strategy for health care reform, he should think outside the box. As Dallek suggests, he should not shy away from a fight and he should provide real leadership to pass a health care program that could save the federal government a bundle in the long run and provide health care services to hundreds of thousands of families and individuals who need it the most.

It looks like Obama’s newly-announced Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle welcomes the fight and has already embraced a creative approach to the health care problem. Let’s hope that desire remains and the Obama Administration makes some serious progress on health care early on.



The Quiet Veteran
October 18, 2008, 4:47 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Health Care, Republicans | Tags: ,


It is clear that John McCain is using his status as a veteran as one of his qualifications for President. He touts this as an indication that he is strong on foreign affairs and constantly refers to the fact that he was a POW. McCain’s service in an unpopular war should be praised. But there is a troubling trend in his stances on veterans issues after he returned from Vietnam. These stances led the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to give McCain a “D” on their Senate Report Card, the second lowest of all 100 senators. (Barack Obama received a “B”). Here is a list of Senator McCain’s positions on Veterans Issues over the years:

  • McCain Voted Against Increased Funding for Veterans’ Health Care.
  • McCain Voted At Least 28 Times Against Veterans’ Benefits, Including Healthcare.
  • McCain Voted Against Providing Automatic Cost-of-Living Adjustments to Veterans.
  • McCain Voted to Underfund Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • McCain Voted Against a $13 Billion Increase in Funding for Veterans Programs.
  • McCain Voted Against $44.3 Billion for Veterans Programs.
  • McCain Voted Against $47 Billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • McCain Voted Against $51 Billion in Veterans Funding.
  • McCain Voted Against $122.7 Billion for Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • McCain Opposed $500 Million for Counseling Services for Veterans with Mental Disorders.
  • McCain opposed an Assured Funding Stream for Veterans’ Health Care.
  • McCain Voted Against Adding More Than $400 Million for Veterans’ Care.
  • McCain Supported Outsourcing VA Jobs.
  • McCain Opposed the 21st Century GI Bill Because It Was Too Generous.

Well jeez. George mentioned recently that McCain might have a superiority complex about his service. Not superiority against non-serving Americans, but against other veterans who did not excel as he did upon return from these wars. This is most strongly supported by his opposition to mental services, including PTSD, for veterans. If he did not develop the disorder after five years of torture, he seems to say, then someone who developed PTSD does not deserve treatment. I know its a taboo to criticize McCain’s service or anything related to veterans and McCain and I want to be clear, I respect that McCain served in this war.

But if he wants to flaunt his veteran record, then he should start voting for policies that help veterans rather than leave them in the dust like an arrogant-come-successful high school classmate.

Update: Think Progress on McCain’s dishonesty about his record on Veterans issues.