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Mark Shields - 07/03/09
Against "Government-Run" Health Care

There is a theme, a mantra you will hear regularly expressed by those who oppose President Barack Obama's push to overhaul the national's health care system: their all-out resistance to any "government-run" health plan.

This past week on the Senate floor, when not a lot of press people were paying close attention, Democrat Sherrod Brown, the first-term U.S. senator from Ohio, took on those who denounce any and all "government-run" care plans. Brown's remarks probably did not make him many new friends in the Senate, but he made a lot of sense.

Here is what Brown, a longtime supporter of the federal government's making certain that every citizen has access to health care coverage, had to say: "I am always surprised when I hear my colleagues, first of all, almost all of whom are on the government health insurance plan, talking about the government not providing a decent health care plan."

He may have violated the unwritten rules of the Senate when he went on to point out that "most of my colleagues are on the government health insurance plan paid for by taxpayers ... ."

Brown, you see, from the first time he ran successfully for the House of Representatives in 1992, has declined to accept the first-class health insurance coverage available to all the members of Congress and generously underwritten by the nation's citizens. His reasoning was and remains very simple: He would not take the congressional health plan until every Ohioan has health care coverage.

That has meant that for the last 16 years, Brown has paid out of his own pocket for his health insurance. No plaster saint, he minimizes his own burden: "I have been lucky and been healthy, and because I get paid a very good salary here in Congress, I have been able to buy a plan with a high deductible."

But it is fascinating to see the very same senators and House members who lambaste "government-run" health care in congressional debate then walk just a few steps to the attending physician's office in the Capitol to have their ache or pain examined.

Oh, yes, that accessible and helpful Capitol physician is also part of a "government-run" operation.

All of this came to mind last Thursday listening to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at a reporters' breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. He was asked about President Obama's repeated insistence that he wanted any health care reform to be bipartisan, preferably winning the support of 70 U.S. senators. But, unlike 1994, when the Clinton White House - where Emanuel was working - rejected, much to its eternal regret, the inspired compromise of Rhode Island Republican Sen. John Chaffee (which would have won the backing of at least 30 GOP senators and would have meant Clinton's securing nearly 90 percent of what he had proposed), the Republican Party - like the U.S. economy - is in its worst shape since the 1930s.

After absorbing two consecutive national election defeats - without modifying either their positions or their message after either defeat - Republicans in 2009, unlike in 1994, are not players in the health care debate. They are passive, negative onlookers. As Emanuel commented, there are no John Chaffees today - "the Republican Party doesn't have that voice anymore."

The time could be fast approaching when the olive branch of bipartisanship is withdrawn, and instead, the tough political case is made to congressional critics of all health care reform: If you don't like "government-run" health care plans, why are you letting the taxpayers provide you and your family with one that's gold-plated?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.