COLUMBIA — Dwelling, as many of us are, on the overly emotional catfight over the administration’s health care reform legislation, I find myself likening it to maintaining an automobile. Although the family car might still provide reliable transportation to and from work and to recreational activities, after periods of operation it will require certain preventive maintenance — oil changes, engine tuneups, new tires and, in some cases, a visit to a repair shop.
This analogy is appropriate for the discussions now in progress. Our health care system, though not perfect and admittedly in need of some reform, is in working order as we do have access to physicians and health clinics and no one is denied emergency hospital care. The question to be answered then is, quite simply, “What to do about it?”
Much as with the family car, the options are reduced to “do we change the oil and tune the engine,” “repair it, “ “trade it in for a similar but newer model that we have learned to trust” or “scrap it for a new, more expensive one with all manner of bells and whistles?” The answer is found in the obvious: Can we make the payments? The overriding questions that many have with the proposed health care reform are twofold — why the seemingly unreasonable urgency and who pays for it?
Because most polling data concludes that a majority is satisfied with both their health care and health insurance (a recent CNN survey found that about than 8 of 10 satisfied.), is it prudent to scrap a system that is not broken? In the end, we must live with the final decision. Accordingly rather than point fingers and call names, we need to recall the adage: “act in haste, repent at leisure.”
As for the contentious town hall discussions dominating headlines, most of us do and should deplore rudeness, threatened violence and disruption of either factions right to be heard by unruly and boorish behavior. These activities, uncivil and unacceptable by any standard, also have the potential to incite backlash that will further damage the discourse. Nevertheless, neither political party owns a monopoly on ill-mannered and disorderly conduct. Is it not ironic that during the eight years of President George Bush, protest and dissent were deemed patriotic?
The attempt by the Obama administration and the Democrat Party leadership to dismiss the dissent in the health care debate as either uninformed, generated by special interests, fomented by talk radio or unpatriotic grossly underestimates the genuine unease and doubt emerging among the people. As an example, asserting that the proposed reduction of $500 billion in Medicare will have no affect on coverage is not playing well among seniors.
Likewise, the almost cavalier treatment of the individual and collective costs of the program in projecting that it can be covered by the raising of taxes on only the top 5 percent is finding fewer takers. As outlined in a bipartisan study by former Congressmen Rudy Boschwitz and Tim Penny in the Aug. 3 issue of Investor’s Business Daily, the soaring history of Medicare and Medicaid costs from 1968 to 2007 casts doubts upon government estimates as well as ability to control expenses.
Since 1968, Medicare costs have gone from $5.1 billion to $436 billion and Medicaid from $1.8 billion to $190.6 billion, an increase of 85 and 105.9 times, respectively.. In contrast, the federal budget grew by only 15.8 times, from $178.1 billion to $272.9 trillion, while the oft-maligned defense budget increased only 6.7 times, from $82.2 to $547.9 billion dollars. Consequently, the public is rightfully and demonstrably concerned.
The administration and the Democratic leadership have done little to endear themselves or to engender a spirit of cooperation with Republicans or independents. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's referring to dissenters as swastika-bearing Nazis and as un-American, or California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s revelation that the protesters are too well dressed to be genuine or grassroots in nature are not exactly excerpted from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
Other ill-advised administration actions that unnecessarily alienated and even enraged a considerable segment of the public came from Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security and from the health care communications officer. Homeland Security's labeling of veterans, anti-abortion rights activists, supporters of third-party conservatives and libertarians and National Rifle Association members as fodder for dangerous militia groups was sorely lacking in political acumen. Equally insulting, the communique from the health care office exhorting people to forward “fishy” e-mails criticizing the president’s proposals smacks of 1984's Orwellian “Big Brother.”
For the president to advance positive reform, he must lose the “my way or the highway” attitude — the Democratic majority in both chambers is sufficient to pass his agenda; accordingly, the opposition cannot be just Republicans. To succeed, the administration must seek common ground with its opposition and realize that when changing the spark plugs will cure the problem, there is little incentive to buy a new car.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.