Harkin: “We Should Have Either Done [Health Care] The Correct Way or Not Done Anything At All.”

220px-Tom_Harkin_official_portraitPresident_Barack_ObamaWe recently discussed the stinging criticism of Sen. Chuck Schumer who called Obamacare a colossal political mistake and something that was not a priority for the American people. It was a remarkable admission from the third ranking and one of the most liberal Senate Democrats. Now, perhaps the most liberal departing member has given his own departing shot at the White House and Democratic Leadership. Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has gone public with criticism that the Affordable Care Act was badly written and should not have been passed. Like Schumer, he is not questioning the value of health care but said that the current law was not worth doing because of its inherent flaws.

Harkin’s criticism was a bit different from Schumer, who indicated that he would have preferred not to have passed health care in the first term at all. Harkin told The Hill newspaper that ObamaCare that the leadership and White House blew it when they had the majority and should have gone all the way to guarantee funding and a more logical structure to the program: “We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it. So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.”

I spoke on Capitol Hill before the passage of the ACA and remarked that the legislation was in the worst condition that I had seen in 30 years in terms of a major piece of legislation. As someone who supports national health care, it was very disappointing, if not alarming, to see the condition of the law. The few sections that I reviewed read like a first draft from a LA’s computer. Democratic staffers told me later that they agreed and that the legislation was not ready. However, with the death of Kennedy (and the replacement by Brown), the Democratic leadership and the White House decided to push through the poorly crafted law on a muscle vote — which led to a number of Democrats being defeated on the marginal vote. The result is that the ACA has been a continual struggle as hundreds of serious drafting errors and flaws have had to be addressed.

Harkin is the retiring chairman of the Senate health panel and helped write the law.

162 thoughts on “Harkin: “We Should Have Either Done [Health Care] The Correct Way or Not Done Anything At All.””

  1. The gigantic hint came out of Nancy Pelosi’s mouth, “We’ll know what’s in it after we pass the bill.” [pph]

  2. Vixpix,
    Yes, having health insurance does help people not die prematurely, but that is only because their health problems are now managed. What is the cause of their problems? In part it is their diet–the Standard American Diet–which is primarily one of fast food, processed food, and junk food–all things created by industry. I’d rather try to fix the heart of the problem instead of giving more control to industry in how people manage their lives.

    Do you do not sound as if you are in favor of corporatism. You sound concerned about the 1%, as am I. Yet, our government is becoming, if not already so, an oligarchy, directed by special interest groups…like insurance companies. I’d rather my doctors, using their knowledge and experience, work with me to determine my care–that means more discussion time (which insurance companies determined, even prior to the ACA).



    The irony, by supporting this bill, you are cheering on corporatism and the 1%, veiled as helping the less fortunate.

  3. Chip S. — It is obvious that I know far less than you about defined-benefit entitlements and total taxable income pools, but can’t money be shifted within a society. If we decided to lop two hundred billion off the defense budget, or have a transaction tax on stock purchases, or close some of the tax loopholes that have given the richest 1% such a large portion of our nation’s wealth, or any one of a number of measures, couldn’t we put the money into maintaining the current benefit levels into future generations? Isn’t this the kind of choice that the Scandanavian democratic socialist countries have made?

    1. Vixpix1 – I am really disappointed at the envy of the progressives in our society. I do not envy those who made more money or went to better schools or were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Why should you care what they made? Jealousy rearing it’s ugly head?

  4. Prairie Rose — I’m not arguing against any of the points you’ve made regarding the importance of a healthy diet, and I agree that poor people are more likely to eat badly. All I’m saying is that not having insurance also contributes to deaths from preventable causes, because people without insurance put off doctor’s visits, and some conditions that could have been dealt with if caught early have progressed too far.

  5. Vixpix,
    “That is, the kind of health care that keeps people healthy and cures them when they’re sick.”
    Then there isn’t a whole lot of quality healthcare out there for the chronic diseases afflicting most Americans, like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Doctors don’t cure people of diabetes using metformin; they manage it.

    “Unless a compelling argument can be made that the diet of the two groups is different, then it seems likely that the lack of health coverage is a big part of the problem.”

    According to the CDC, the income groups most likely to be uninsured are those earning less than $50,000. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/hlthins/data/incpovhlth/2013/Table4.pdf

    Here’s an article off PubMed which notes that people with lower incomes (less than $50,000) “spent a larger proportion of their eating out dollars at carry out places, and a larger proportion of their home beverage purchases were sugar sweetened beverages.” The article also stated that people with lower incomes eat fewer fruits and vegetables and that lower incomes are associated with a lower quality diet. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988056/?report=classic

    Thoughts on this data? 🙂

  6. Their funding may have to do with the dependency ratio, but they continue because of the tremendous benefits they offer in making a decent life possible for elderly Americans.

    vixpix, you seem like a nice person, and I’m glad you have a comfortable retirement, but your statement I’ve just quoted violates basic logic. Defined-benefit entitlements offer a rate of return that’s entirely determined by the growth of the total taxable income pool. The comfortable retirement you’re enjoying is simply not available to the current younger generations, b/c to sustain your generation’s level of benefits requires ever-rising taxes. That means that current workers have less disposable income out of which to save for their own retirement. That in turn, reduces the rate of capital accumulation, which means a lower rate of growth of future wages.

    These basic forces are as ineluctable as the laws of physics.

    There is a way to fix SS w/o privatization, but you probably wouldn’t like it if you really think that taxes can just be raised indefinitely to fix any gov’t program.

    As for the financial crisis stuff, DBQ’s comment needs little elaboration. I’ll just say that it’s helpful in this case to distinguish b/w the initial impetus and the propagation mechanism. The Community Reinvestment Act provided the impetus to make sketchy loans. The ways that clever finance jocks came up with to package sh*t as shinola are the basis for the fines.

  7. why would financial institutions like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch pay fines that run into the tens of billions of dollars?

    The catalyst was the idiotic rules from the government to force banks to make loans to people that had no business getting loans and who would never pay the loans back. The engine was greed and partly self preservation. You are stuck with a portfolio of garbage…..so….you mix it in with the good loans ….sell that sh*t off and hope that no one will notice. Suddenly a cascade of foreclosures and the portfolio springs a leak and the sh*t is all over the place. (technical terms from a former broker)

    Part of why they had to pay, was the fraudulent packaging of these sub prime (crap) mortgages into financial instruments (CMOs and other mortgage backed securities) without the disclosure of the risk to unsuspecting individual investors and also to institutional investors. They were trying to hide the dog crap in the midst of better quality mortgages. No disclosure that that

    Also….. investment advisors who were not paying attention would be selling tranches of CMOs that were junior and even sub junior tranches. Their customers suffered. I always made sure that my customers had a senior tranche or at worst the second one down in the waterfall. It was work but you need to dig through the pile to see if there really is a pony there……most of the time….not pony. Many advisors didn’t bother and just parroted the party line from the top in order to make a buck.


  8. Chip S. — if, as you suggest, the subprime mortgage crisis is largely the result of stupidly written government regulations, why would financial institutions like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch pay fines that run into the tens of billions of dollars? I thought they were convicted of serious crimes in their handling of subprime mortgages, rather than merely committing mopery with intent to gawk.

    I’ll have to disagree with you once again, regarding SS and Medicare. Their funding may have to do with the dependency ratio, but they continue because of the tremendous benefits they offer in making a decent life possible for elderly Americans. In a nation as awash in misspent funds as we are, our desire to offer these benefits will outweigh any demographic considerations.

    As to the benefits that will be available to future generations, the money is there to maintain the levels we’ve seen in the past, though we will have to decide whether we wish to put it into tax breaks for the rich and a bloated military budget or programs that benefit most of us. Hence my interest in democratic socialism.

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