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. vixpix, if you’re on Medicare you’re old enough to not be surprised to discover that if the gov’t writes laws w/ stupid incentives in them, businesses will respond to those incentives no matter how stupid they are. So, yes, actually, the mortgage crisis is on gov’t lending regulations to a large extent. (Angelo Mozillo once got a “lender of the year award” for the diversity of Countrywide’s mortgage portfolio.)

    As for SS and Medicare, their success or failure is driven by demographics and life expectancy. They “work” when the dependency ratio is low, and they “fail” when it gets too high. It has nothing to do w/ ideology, and everything to do w/ demography.

    You’re in a generation that benefits from both programs. The next gen. isn’t going to do nearly as well as you. So if the youngsters want to reform those programs to reduce their expected losses, please have a little sympathy, instead of just assuming they don’t understand the benefits of redistribution from them to you.

  2. Karen — you seem to have trouble telling the difference between democratic socialism and communism. Let me address a point you stress; social mobility. If you Google “social mobility by country” you will find that America’s social mobility, once the envy of the world, ranks overall 10th, BEHIND THE SCANDANAVIAN COUNTRIES. Similarly, studies have shown that Scandanavian countries have the happiest populations. So, pack warm, because it does get cold in the winter over there.

    Socialists like myself are not trying to undo what the founding fathers created, we are trying to achieve it, picking up where capitalism has so obviously failed. Much of your opinions seem to come from that Tea Party book, A Child’s Golden Garden of Stalinist Oppression. The Scandanavian countries seem like vibrant democracies, countries that have decided that the wealth of the nation should be used for the people of the nation, and not be permitted to wind up in the hands of a few, to the detriment of the many.

    As to the issue of immigration, I’m much more interested in how a country treats it’s citizens, rather than whether it lets in more people.

    On the issue of the subprime mortgage disaster, your blaming the Democrats is classic right wing nonsense. Yes, the Democrats loosened the criteria for mortgage loans, to enable less affluent people to enjoy home ownership (helping poor people, how unamerican is that). The greed balls saw it as an exploitable loophole, and went berserk with their loans. There was one instance where an itinerant fruit picker who made $14,000 a year was given a mortgage for over $700,000. The realtors, banks, financial institution and bond rating agencies all jumped aboard the gravy train, under regulated mainly by Republicans, and pocketed commissions until the scam collapsed. There was a recent interview with a woman who had worked for one of the biggest financial institutions, heading the department in charge of approving loans being purchased. When she pointed out that on one batch being purchased, fully 40% of the loans did meet their standards, she was told 1) never again communicate through email, which can be traced, 2) shut up, and 3) you’re fired.

    Liberal programs that have helped people include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, Aid to Families with Dependant Children, Food Stamps, the U.S. Highway System and National Parks, every one of which was opposed by conservatives as being the steel toed jackboot of Stalinist tyranny descending upon the throats of real Americans. As to the financing of these systems, if you lumped all the social safety net programs together, you would find that for every dollar spent on them, five dollars is given to corporations and wealthy individuals in tax breaks and subsidies. That’s why Warren Buffett says he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.

    It is for reasons like this that democratic socialism has sprung up, and holds the key to a better future.

  3. Karen — I have to go watch my favorite NFL team get its butt kicked, but like General MacArthur, I shall return.

  4. Olly — property rights exist in the democratically socialist countries. Don’t confuse them with Communist countries. Let’s take an issue I consider precious — home ownership. U.S. – 65.2%. Norway – 84.8% Sweden – 70.1%. Denmark – 64.3%. This doesn’t look much like the jackboot of Stalinist oppression to me. To be fair, house size in America is slightly bigger than Denmark and noticeably bigger than Sweden.

    You talk about consent. The Scandanavian countries are democratic socialist. The people have voted for this approach to governance. There are parties of different persuasions, and they duke it out in parliament.

    I am not suggesting any overthrow of our system by force and violence. This will only work when it is the will of the people. I am suggesting that much of what many of us, perhaps even yourself, regard as the public good is happening more over there than in the U.S. Isn’t universal high quality health coverage a good thing? Isn’t it better to provide free college tuition, than have graduates labor for years, and in some cases forever, trying to pay off college loans? No homelessness? Clean energy?

    Our capitalist system has become terribly distorted. The middle class is getting hammered. Middle class income has declined over the last 40 years, while middle class net worth has fallen from the 80 thousand dollar range to the 50 thousand dollar range. All this while the percent of the national wealth owned by the 1% has soared, and if you think this is because the guys at the top in any way earned it, I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona you might be interested in.

  5. I do not believe a socialist system, in which no matter what you do, you cannot improve your situation nor that of your family, benefits humanity. Rather, it produces hopelessness, helplessness, and sloth. Why work hard if you get the same results twiddling your fingers?

    The former Soviets really struggled when the Soviet Union collapsed, because they had absolutely no idea how to take care of themselves, and there was no infrastructure to do so. People had become helpless and just knew how to wait for government to take care of them.

  6. Also, I do believe our system of government has been corrupted (as predicted it would be); the principles of our founding have not been honored (as predicted they would be), because the People have ignorantly consented to it (as predicted they would). The People have created the government that created the oligarchy; the only way to address it is to unwind the government that is controlled by the oligarchy and replace it with one that is accountable to the People and the rule of law.

  7. Vixpix,
    Thank you for that honest response. You said: “I believe in all the principles laid down by our founding fathers.”

    What about the unalienable right to property? I don’t see how your comments that followed had ANY connection with that principle. It appears this noble desire to “equitably” distribute wealth (property) completely disregards this principle. Also, our system of government is rooted in the principle of consent and guided by the rule of law. Therefore, while we might have a majority that holds your socialist views, there still exists a constitutional process to follow and a Bill of Rights to protect.

  8. And may I remind you that the subprime mortgage debacle arose out of a Democratic Congress deciding that homeownership is a right.

    Previously, only A Paper loans (good credit and 15% down) could get a loan, and obviously, they had a very low foreclosure rate. People will fight tooth and nail to hold onto a house they contributed at least 15% to buy. But then the Liberals came along to “fix” the problem that the poor don’t own houses. They decided that homeownership was a right, and A Paper requirements were discriminatory. They required banks to make subprime loans (loans to bad credit with low or no money down.) The banks were assured they could bundle these ticking time bomb loans in with A Paper loans to spread the risk, and sold them to investors. Previously, mortgages were very low risk investments, and a lot of pension plans invested in them. Soon, banks went hog wild, loaning money out to people who obviously could not afford it. All that available lending money drove real estate up to unsustainable levels. Then they came up with neg-am loans so people could flip houses and have a mortgage payment lower than the interest while they flipped. But soon everyone was getting neg-am loans, paying lower than the interest, and when the principle and interest payment hit, suddenly their payment had gone much much higher than when they applied. Plus the interest rate had climbed.

    And BOOM went the housing bubble. And many subprime lenders, low credit and nothing of their own financially invested to buy the house, just walked away. Instead of helping people own homes, they just ruined their credit worse.

    If you want to help someone with bad credit and little to no savings buy a home, then you teach them financial responsibility (fiscal conservatism). You teach them how to make a budget, how to stop over-using debt, how to control spending, and how to build an emergency fund. Then you work on any way they can increase their income – take classes, learn more job skills, improve job searches, etc.

    You don’t just hand someone with bad credit and no money a mortgage and think it will all work out beautifully.

    From my research, I have yet to find a single Liberal program in the past 20 years that actually improved the circumstances of the population they tried to help. Nor have I found one that actually had the moneyt o pay for it.

  9. Here is what I do not understand.

    The US was built to be a democracy, with the possibility of achieving the American Dream – working your way up from the poor to the successful. There was great emphasis on personal freedom, which was finally realized after the Civil War abolished slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. There are people who want to completely undue the entire purpose of why America was built, and make it a socialistic country in which people are cared for from cradle to grave, with no more possibility of increasing your station. In pure socialist countries, everyone is equally poor except the government ruling class. In nanny state countries, everyone is taxed to the bone and most live in tiny apartments.

    Why would people try to unmake America’s entire purpose, rather than just immigrate to a country that meets their ideals? How is it fair to try to undue a completely unique country, that draws millions from around the world, and remake it in the image of countries that have very little immigration. I have never heard of someone in Nigeria yearning for the Scandinavian Dream. Or the British Dream. Or the German Dream.

    People come from around the world to America, and yet there are those who want to destroy those opportunities.

    It reminds me of my friend from the former USSR. She said her family had a small business, which was illegal. They had to hide that they were doing a capitalist enterprise, or the consequences would have been severe. However, they all ate better and had warmer clothes because of it.

    That could be us if we’re not careful, people hiding attempts to improve their circumstances through hard work, and entrepreneurship.

    And government bread might be equal for everyone, but it is always stale.

  10. Chip is a Harvard alum, pogo a doc. Even with tequila in my system from last night I can see others are overmatched.

  11. And are you willing to adopt the strict Scandinavian immigration policies in oder to get the nanny state? It is exceptionally hard to immigrate there, and they do not tolerate illegal aliens. They already have confiscatory taxes to support their tiny population. You have to prove you will contribute before you come there. No more illegal immigration. No more majority poor immigrants.

  12. Vix:

    “Karen — my comments about Native Americans and slavery, and more recent issues, were intended to point out to Olly that the noble rhetoric of our forefathers was not matched by the reality of our actions, either then or now.”

    I get what you’re saying. You have to compare the actions of earlier Americans with those of their contemporaries, not present day. Compared to the rest of the world, America was ground breaking in developing a system in which you did not have to be restricted to your born station for life.

  13. Olly — I believe in all the principles laid down by our founding fathers. Equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and a government that reflects, with constitutional safeguards, the will of the people. In my comment, I was pointing out that in practice, we had fallen far short of these noble goals.

    Politically, I am a democratic socialist, a believer in the kind of government that is found in the Scandanavian countries nowadays. I believe that government should see to it that there is a far more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth than we do, while still encouraging entrepreneurial activity. I believe capitalism, with its guiding principle that everybody should grab as much as they can and don’t give a damn about anybody else, is a recipe for disaster. In our recovery from the subprime mortgage debacle, we have created enormous wealth, but $19 out of every $20 created went to the richest 1%. The average CEO makes 354 times as much as the average worker. These things are dysfunctional, and ultimately unsustainable.

    Scandanavian countries have a wealth tax, particularly heavy on money made from oil. Because they don’t let hugely disproportional amounts accrue to the rich, they have money for universal health care, free college tuitions, and have nearly ended homelessness. They also have the money to make real efforts to move toward clean, renewable energy. I believe these things are better for the people of a country than what we’ve done, where the top 5% of Americans own as much as the bottom 90%.

  14. Vixpix,
    You never answered my questions. If you don’t believe in our founding principles then what form of government do you advocate? I don’t need a laundry list of our failures as a nation or as individuals. It’s BECAUSE we WILL fail that we have a constitution and the rule of law. The problem is if you don’t have fixed principles then what guides YOU when their is chaos. What protects your rights?

    Get specific.

  15. Karen — my comments about Native Americans and slavery, and more recent issues, were intended to point out to Olly that the noble rhetoric of our forefathers was not matched by the reality of our actions, either then or now. I certainly was not suggesting returning the land to its previous owners (though I might make an exception for Texas).

    As to health care, my vision of a national health plan doesn’t take anything from anybody. It extends our high quality health care to the 41 million Americans who have no coverage. Every other industrialized nation has does this, because there are enormous savings to be made by cutting for profit insurance companies out of the picture. We don’t have to lower our standards, though I imagine adding that many people to the system will mean longer waits for non critical things. That’s a price we should be willing to pay to provide access to health care to every American.

    There is nothing speculative about national health plans. We have dozens of examples to choose from. We will cover everyone, and we’ll save money besides. Even with the ACA, insurance companies are looking for every angle to to increase their profits. They are playing games moving drugs from one tier to a more expensive tier. I had to change my non Medicare plan this year because of a huge increase in the cost of one of my medicines. That’s what insurance companies do, and America is the only country that puts up with it.

  16. Prairie:

    You are so right that a diet of whole foods and healthy fats, combined with exercise, is key to improving our health.

    The American diet was based on a study that was unknowingly conducted during Lent, and did not accurately gather data on what the population routinely ate. That’s how we came up with our low fat, high grain diet, which has now become heavily laden with sugar and processed food.

    I’ve seen a lot of Amish, who eat really filling foods with meats and butter, but I have yet to meet an overweight Amish. They’re probably out there, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve also never met a sedentary Amish. Even when they’re on rumpspringa, and not working a farm, they cram in as much as they can into a day.

    1. Karen – how can one ‘unknowingly’ run a study during Lent. Even as an agnostic, I know when Lent begins and ends. And Advent, which just started.

  17. Vix:

    Yes, we need a humane solution to improving health care for the poor. The other component is that the poor also tend to have the worst diet, and eat the most cheap, processed food. It’s a bad combination.

    You do not take health care away from one group and give it to another. It’s not ethical, and it does not solve the problem.

  18. Vixpix:

    Are you aware that over the centuries, mankind in every society has had a conquering view of the world and its resources. That includes the Native Americans. Tribes conquered other tribes, sometimes wiping them completely out. Most took slaves, including sex slaves. No one tribe held the same land indefinitely. It changed hands. And sometimes entire tribes were killed off. Some tribes were more warlike and some more peaceful, depending on resources and the proximity of hostile neighbors. There were thousands of different tribes at one time or another, with an entire range of behavior. So it’s impossible to generalize. Some tribes were renowned horsemen (whose animals originated with the Conquistadors), and others rode their horses into the ground and then ate them. African tribes also warred with each other, wiped each other out, and took slaves. In fact, slavery STILL EXISTS in Africa. The Aztecs were among many cultures that engaged in human sacrifice. The Fore were cannibals. The Portuguese were the most prolific in the slave trade. The Romans and the Egyptians and almost every other culture I can think of owned slaves. It was abhorrent, and yet it was the horrible norm for eons.

    America fought for its independence, and fought a war to end slavery.

    It is irrational to judge America for the colonialism of Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, or to judge it alone by today’s standards, but not any other culture.

    If you’re going to despise America for how humanity behaved at the time, then please be fair and apply that logic to every culture of the time.

    If anyone claims that America really belongs to the Native Americans, then Great Britain really belongs to the Picts. And Mexico does not belong to the Mexicans, or the Spaniards, but rather Native Americans. In fact, all of America actually only belongs to those with Clovis blood. Same thing with Canada. Geeze, if you’re going to untangle who really owns each square foot of land in Great Britain, you’re going to need a really long time to figure out the Hapsbergs, and other Houses, and who snatched what land from whom, and who won it in battle.

    Does Mount Rushmore really belong to the Sioux, who held it last, or the Cheyenne, from whom they took it, or any of the other neighbors who lost it at one time or another?

    1. Karen – good post. We should not forget that the Aztec specialty in warfare was to capture the enemy, not kill them. Those captives would be sacrificed, one after the other on the high altar, in what is now Mexico City. They would thrust a flint knife into the abdomen and then reach in and tear out the still beating heart. Blood sacrifice is what kept the Aztec nation going.

  19. Prairie Rose — I do not doubt what you say, not in the least, and you’ve convinced me that part of the problem of deaths from preventable causes has to do with our diet. Still and all, the number I read some years ago was that people without health coverage were 40% more likely to die than people with. 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.

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