Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why the Health Care Debate Sucks Harder

If you are one of those poor souls who actually follows the news, you'll have noticed that the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962 for short, just got passed in the House of Representative 220-215. This is a pretty exciting result, the legislative equivalent to watching the Chargers beat the Giants 21-20 last Sunday. Actually, Saturday night's vote shares a lot in common with Sunday afternoon's game. They're both only one of a long, long series of contests, and just as the Chargers' win doesn't mean they win the AFC West, the House vote doesn't mean that I can now go visit a government-paid doctor about the throbbing pain in my left eye. The House Bill is guaranteed to die in the Senate, as the few moderate Democrats who have the country's nuts in their hands refuse to let anything that has a whiff of abortion or the public option get passed.

The health care “debate” is also like a football game in that the fans of one side stay the fans of their side. No Giants fans became Chargers supporters after Sunday, and neither group would be willing to cheer for a “non-partisan” third option like the Bengals. As with gay marriage, abortion, and Sarah Palin, the lines for the battle over health insurance have been made and there's no crossing them.

This political climate provides us with hours and hours of entertaining televison, as people can yell at each other for hours on end, or wave signs about the holocaust in front of government buildings to their hearts' content. Unfortunately, it also means that there's no reason to talk about what's actually in the bill.

Let's say you're a Congressman. For the sake of arguement, we'll assume that miraculously, you've actually read the 1,900-page behemoth that is H.R. 3962. You may have some nuanced views about the health insurance debate. The problem is your constituents, the people who elected you and have the power to not elect you a year from now, don't have nuanced views. Some of them think that the bill is “socialism,” some think it's not socialist enough, some of them are confused and think it will mean the end of Medicare, some people are against anything the government does, some of them are convinced that the public option is the best thing since sandwiches, some people are uninsured and just really need a doctor to look at their left eye, which is now looking really red and puffy. These people aren't interested in the complex ins-and-outs of any bill—that's what they have you in office for, they figure. They also want you to vote exactly the way that they, the uniformed voters, would vote in your position.

So unless you're a Representative from an extremely Democratic or extremely Republican district, you, Mr. Congressman, are scared shitless of any health care bill coming to a vote. You'll have to make a decision that a guaranteed 40 percent of your voters are going to hate you for, and all that's on your mind, if you care about reelection, is not making a vote that more than 50 percent of your voters will hate you for. At this point, does it matter what's in the “reform” bill? Or are people's perceptions of the bill more important than the reality?

(Hint: it's the second one.)

Here's the way the debate is going to play out for the next few weeks: abortion, abortion abortion! Filibuster? Rising costs, abortion, pre-existing conditions, costs, costs, abortion! Homosexuals? Socialism! Socialism! Abortion!

Then, sometime in the distant future, a bill looking even more ragged than the bill in that Schoolhouse Rock video above will become a law, and some people who didn't have insurance before will have it. If my eye is still hurting, I'll get it looked at. Some other people's taxes will go up. America's medical costs will stay about the same. And the endless war for the politcal soul of America will move on to the next battle. Whoop-de-doo.

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